U of T Researcher and Toronto Public Library Form Partnership to 3D Print Face Shields

Apr 1, 2020
Author: 
Ciara Parsons

Dr. Azad Mashari Nick Iwanyshyn/U of T News

In the midst of a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, a University of Toronto researcher is working on a novel solution.

Thanks to a partnership between the University of Toronto and Toronto Public Library, Dr. Azad Mashari, an assistant professor with the Faculty of Medicine, will be using 3D printers lent to Toronto General Hospital by the Toronto Public Library to assist their work designing reusable face shields for health care workers.

“Face shields are really simple pieces of personal protective equipment to make. They’re needed in large quantities right now during the COVID-19 pandemic by health care workers and those working in essential service positions,” says Mashari.

3D Printed Face Shield Nick Iwanyshyn/U of T News Face shields are thin pieces of plastic that act as a barrier to protect the wearer’s face from bodily fluids and airborne debris. 

With the COVID-19 virus being spread through respiratory droplets and close person-to-person contact, face shields have become an important personal protective equipment to frontline health care workers.

The shortage of personal protective equipment—like N95 masks and rubber gloves—is a serious challenge faced by health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A problem that is faced in health care is that most items are designed to be single-use. Not only does this create a lot of environmental waste, but it causes difficulties with supply levels during crises when large volumes of critically important equipment are required,” says Mashari.

The library has loaned 10 3D printers to Mashari and his team at the Lynn and Arnold Irwin Advanced Perioperative Imaging Lab (APIL) at Toronto General Hospital. Before the pandemic, library card holders used the printers to create and design 3D printed items.

However, now, the printers will be repurposed for medical use, and help increase the supply of face shields to health care workers in the Toronto area.

“The 3D printers in our lab and at our collaborating sites have the capacity to run pretty much 24 hours a day and have the potential to print tens of thousands of face shields, if not more,” says Mashari.

Mashari says his team at APIL is working alongside researchers at Glia Incorporated to create, design and distribute these face shields to frontline health care workers.

Glia Incorporated is a company that was founded by Dr. Tarek Loubani of Western University, that develops high quality, open source medical devices.

The Glia Incorporated and APIL team used face shield designs from existing open source blueprints as a basis for their face shields, which are now available online and free for use.

“The beauty of open source development is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. So, we looked online for open source designs, reached out to the developers and then started making modifications to the designs and testing them,” says Mashari.

The face shields are made from plastic, mylar and elastic. Each face shield costs $10 CDN or $7 USD to create, says Mashari, which is about twice the price point of most single-use face shields currently available. 

The face shields are compliant with Health Canada regulations, as Glia Incorporated is an approved device maker for this type of medical equipment, says Mashari.

Approximately 2,000 face shields have been ordered and are actively being distributed across Ontario, he says, and a roll-out of the face shields is anticipated to begin this week.

Currently, the face shields are intended for use by health care workers. However, Mashari says in future, they may be distributed to other essential service workers if there is capacity to do so.

“We’ve received inquiries from grocery chains for example—so there is potential to expand the project, but we are supplying hospital networks first,” says Mashari. 

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