The Walloon FabLabs (collaborative prototyping spaces) have been involved in developing and producing solutions for combating COVID-19 since the start of the epidemic. The most sustained activity at the moment is the manufacture of protective visors for the medical corps and other frontline professions. Exchange and innovation are definitely at the heart of the Walloon ecosystem and these network activities in particular. They are particularly important keywords for resolving this crisis.
There is no shortage of initiatives for meeting the urgent need for these masks, which are essential for protecting healthcare personnel as well as pharmacists, laboratory workers, fire-fighters, police officers, food sector employees, etc. In collaboration with Saint-Pierre Hospital, the FabLabs (i.e. FABrication LABoratories open to the general public) of ULB, Mons, Andenne, Charleroi and Tournai have also decided to join forces to help combat this shortage. The projects currently underway include the production of respiratory masks, syringe pumps and respirators, and they have also developed a type of mask that can better protect people who are exposed to COVID-19 diseases.
Scientists, architects, designers, engineers, doctors and technicians have developed several models for full, reusable protective masks that can extend the life of surgical masks and FFP2 masks. This equipment provides greater protection for health care workers, as it covers the face in full, “and allows them to avoid contamination through the mucous membranes of the eye," according to Alain Delchambre, co-coordinator of the ULB FabLab, in La Libre. When placed on top of the surgical mask, it creates “a 100% safe barrier” as it protects against external spray.
The base material is an A4 plastic sheet, like those used for old overhead projectors. Thanks to 3D printing and laser cutting, a frame holds the sheet in front of the user’s face. These visor prototypes have been tested and validated by doctors at the CHU Saint-Pierre.
"FFP2 models would have taken too long to manufacture," explained Alain Delchambre, whereas a single FabLab can produce around 600 protective masks per day. Several thousand masks have already been produced and this is just the start. Requests are pouring in from hospitals both in Belgium and abroad.
Solidarity and innovation lie at the heart of this initiative, stated Cécile Sztalberg, Director of the Michel Cremer Foundation, which is funding some of the raw materials. “Some suppliers have provided materials at cost price; we are seeing many acts of solidarity during this crisis. This solidarity chain, networking and the speed at which the production process was set up were helped by the existing ecosystem,” she added. Doctors and engineers have been working closely together to develop medical tools for around ten years. Furthermore, “biomedical engineering training has allowed engineers to understand and speak the same language as doctors,” added Alain Delchambre.
“We have a number of undeniable assets to help us: capacities, resources, skills, a vast university hospital network and the desire of a large number of stakeholders to be part of these solidarity chains,” stressed Cécile Sztalberg.
The plans and tutorials are online so that everyone (certain more basic models only require a stapler) can produce these protective masks and be part of the collective effort.
If you have some A4 plastic sheets, that you used to use with overhead projectors, or even the transparent sheets used as a cover to connect files, why not take them to one the Walloon FabLabs? These Labs are working together and sharing their supplies.
The FabLab concept was defined at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It is a FABrication LABoratory open to the public, in which you can find digital manufacturing tools. A FabLab must have at least four machines (a 3D printer, a vinyl cutter, a laser cutter and a digital CNC milling machine). These allow the production of a number of prototypes.
The FabLab philosophy is, “Design it and make it yourself!”. FabLabs are aimed at students, researchers, designers, artists, robotics engineers, entrepreneurs and all 21st century DIYers who want to move quickly from an idea to a prototype in order to promote their project.
Source : La Libre et le FabLab de Mons
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