Employees at the Preston site of boiler manufacturer Baxi Heating are swapping the use of their 3D printers from making prototype boiler components to frames for protective face masks.
It has been well publicised that the NHS is crying out for more PPE and, having seen an article about 3D print hobbyist Sid Lovatt who is 3D printing frames for full-face visors for NHS workers, Alan Peel, product design team leader at Baxi Heating, thought his team could get involved too.
Peel is currently self-isolating, and working from home, but he is still managing his team and is able to programme the 3D printers remotely. He says: “After speaking to Sid Lovatt, I set the 3D printer at 11pm, to print overnight. My concern was that printing one frame at a time would take a very long time and there would be nobody around at night to remove the frames from the printer.
“I needed to try and find a method of printing much larger batches of parts, so the changeover was on a daily basis or even twice weekly if possible. I downloaded some software to my home computer and taught myself how to use it. Using this, I was able to stack up a single batch of 25 components in a single build and set them printing at midnight on 1 April.
“The following night, I pushed the boundaries further by stacking them more tightly and also interlocking them to maximise how many would fit in the 3D printer footprint. It took many attempts and another late night, but I finally managed to increase the capacity in one build from 25 up to 110 components.”
Peel shared the design files with Lovatt, so he would be able to increase his build capacity as well.
As well as 3D printing mask parts for the NHS in UK, Baxi Heating is also able to helping colleagues working at Baxi in Spain, Spanish face masks being designed slightly differently to is different to those used in the UK.
Peel explains that just a skeleton staff of two or three engineers are working in R&D at any one time now, with the majority of the team working from home, so Baxi product design engineer Joseph Folorunsho, who is in the office, is removing the mask parts from the printer and packing them up to be shipped to Lovatt in Harrogate and Baxi Spain in Barcelona.
David Pinder, CEO of Baxi Heating UK and Ireland, said: “I am really proud of how our colleagues have found ways to pitch in and help with this unprecedented situation. The R&D team have worked on this fantastic project because they were passionate about helping. Colleagues from other parts of the business are using their skills in other ways – for example, our contact centre agents, based in Warwick, have all been set up to work from home, so they can continue to help our customers. And our field service engineers, to whom we have provided appropriate PPE so they can carry out their work safely, are carrying out free of charge boiler repairs for NHS workers.
“This great adversity has brought out the very best in people and I hope that this feeling of national (and international) camaraderie persists long after the current emergency has ended.”