Unsung heroes: Sarawak volunteers making 3D-printed face shields for healthcare workers

Submitted by Nurul, Digital Content Writer at Sarawak Media Group Sdn. Bhd. 

In the sleepy town of Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia, maker Alex Tong has been up overnight to supervise his 3D printers at home. His phone pinged several times. “We need 600 pieces to Sibu Hospital, can you send them ASAP?” reads the message.

The message comes from his WhatsApp group, a community of 3D makers from Sibu, Bintulu and Miri, which was put together on the eleventh hour on 23 March when Covid-19 cases escalated in the state.

The 29-member team calls themselves Sarawak Covid-19 Printers Union, lending their skills to contribute face shields to state healthcare workers at government hospitals around Sarawak and two screening centres in Kuching. The group comes from all walks of life – teachers, lecturers, homemakers, startups, SMEs, engineers and librarians, along with 3D printing service businesses.

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Using the face shield design created by the globally popular printing manufacturer, Prusa 3D in Czech Republic, Tong and his friends have modified the design several times to adapt to available materials, as non-essential shops are closed due to the Malaysian government’s restricted movement order since 18 March.

“We modified the design a lot of times to suit our materials’ availability,” Tong said. “These designs will be shared in .stl or .ai files, and the printers can just open up these files using 3D software. The software usually comes with the printers.”

Joining arms with them are local makers across Sarawak such as 3DX, Faith 3D, Proteus 3D Technology, Creativeworks Technologies, The Learning Curve and Sarawak Multimedia Authority, among others, to provide the protective items to government hospitals in Sarawak, where there have been nine deaths from Covid-19 as of 2 April.

Each face shield takes about 30 to 45 minutes to produce. It is made by mounting a transparent A4 sheet on each 3D printed frame or laser cut acrylic piece.

With a cost of RM2 (£0.18) for each face shield produced, Tong’s group raised their own funds and materials.

Filaments are supplied by local 3D design and printing services company, Faith 3D Tech from one of the group’s members, Ferdinand. As Chyi Leong, another member of the group, puts it, “Basically our operation is built on his kind supply of filament. If it wasn’t for him it will be impossible to pull off this 3D printing.”

Tong said within a week of forming the group, they have sent 1,400 pieces of face shields to hospitals.