The Darling Downs PPE project mitigated some of the early PPE shortages for healthcare workers in the Toowoomba and wider area during the March-May period in 2020. Makers around the world launched PPE projects, and the Darling downs area was no exception, creating face shields that could be 3D printed and laser cut. These shields are a critical protection for healthcare workers who are treating contagious coughing and sneezing patients, protecting the eyes, nose and mouth from droplets.
In March 2020, the PPE shortage for masks was very real in our local Toowoomba area. After inquiries from Darling Downs Health, the project began to respond to the local need. As the project began, doctors in the local area came forward, describing real shortages in our local area. I realised that we had to pull together a strong team of community stakeholders to respond to this need on a fast timeline.
Toowoomba is the main regional hub for many rural Queensland towns, including Chinchilla, Warwick, Dalby, Roma, Miles and others. Toowoomba health care providers needed to be ready to not only respond to the local need, but the overflow need from these smaller practices in rural areas.
COVID-19 is known to be asymptomatic, and while testing services were still being set up, a spread could occur very quickly in an unready, underprepared area. We could not let our healthcare workers become compromised and be unable to respond to a growing demand.
Despite setbacks and roadblocks around legalities and funding, the DDPPE team was able to create shield prototypes for Darling Downs Health and rollout a ‘free face shields’ program within three weeks.
The project drew media recognition, including an article in the Chronicle Online, an article in the Chronicle newspaper, 7 News coverage and feature in the USQ News & VC Newsletter. I also wrote an article on the face shields project for DIYODE Magazine.
In total, 370 face shields were created for hospitals, aged care homes and healthcare providers in the Darling Downs and wider rural areas. This collaborative project came together with partners from USQ, Ellipsis Media, Reality 3D printing, Seven Springs Medical and Vital Image Graphics laser cutting. This project had a number of project collaborators and stakeholders, including the Public Health Network, Darling Downs Health, Toowoomba Hospital Foundation, TSBE and many healthcare providers who requested equipment.
While mass manufacturing of face shields is now in place, this project shows how our local manufacturers can step up and provide an agile response to supply chain need with new technologies. 3D printing and laser cutting technologies are a fast and high quality way to produce prototypes and products with a fast turnaround. The project is no longer active, but the team remains in contact in the event of an arising need.