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RCA Designers Address the Unprecedented Global Demand for PPE

The following article is part of a series examining how creatives in the RCA community are responding to the unprecedented challenges posed by Covid-19.


Designers from the RCA community are adapting their skills to help meet the unprecedented demand for vital protective equipment – whether it’s 3D-printing face shields, donating equipment, prototyping new solutions, or adapting manufacturing businesses to help meet demands for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

PPE Production
PPE Production

Due to the increased demand created by the coronavirus pandemic there are widespread shortages of PPE, which is needed to protect healthcare workers treating patients with Covid-19 and to help reduce transmission of the virus. In particular there is a growing demand for face shields, which the World Health Organisation and Public Health England advise should be worn over face masks while treating patients to protect against respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes.

Teams from the RCA and Imperial College London are collaborating to create over 100,000 face shields for front-line NHS staff at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, UK. The team have already supplied 2,000 units and are on their way to deliver a further 1,000. The RCA and Imperial College London’s joint efforts to quickly make and supply the masks has been led by MA Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) graduate, Lucy Jung and Dr Floyd Pierres, a doctor at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, who previously collaborated to co-found InnovationRCA start-up Charco Neurological. Current MA IDE student Alex Dallman Porter, IDE alumnus Barry Lillis and medical device expert Gordon Jowett also make up the core team.

MA Design Products alumnus, Milo Mcloghlin-Greening has collaborated with healthcare design studio Cellule and 3D printing facility Batch.works with the aim of producing over 11,000 face shields for COVID-19 front line workers, for up to three London hospitals where there is a growing need. They have the current capacity to produce thousands of shields, designed specifically for high quality and quick turn around, and recently reached their funding target for materials to produce the first batch after a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Batch.works face shield
Batch.works face shield
Jaguar Land Rover, whose design director is RCA alumnus Gerry McGovern, and who employ various RCA alumni – have started production of NHS-approved protective visors. The reusable face visors will be manufactured in the company’s rapid prototype 3D-printing facility, which is one of the most advanced in Europe. Initially the company will 3D-print 1,300 visors each week for key workers, with plans to develop operation for mass production.

The company has also donated PPE such as wraparound safety glasses to the NHS and deployed more than 160 vehicles globally to support emergency response organisations. This includes 57 vehicles that have been put into service with the British Red Cross to deliver medicine and food to vulnerable people including the elderly across the UK.

Other alumni are contributing on a smaller scale. Such as Ji Huang, a Ceramics & Glass alumnus, based in Canada, who has been using his 3D printer to produce face shields for hospital workers in Toronto after there was an open call for support.

Danielle Elsener's Zero Waste Scrubs
Danielle Elsener's Zero Waste Scrubs

Medical scrubs are another form of PPE that has been in short supply. The fashion industry has been quick to respond, moving away from clothes manufacture to help with the medical crisis. Burberry – who are supporters of the RCA’s Burberry Material Futures Research Group – are helping by making protective gowns for NHS workers. 

There have also been initiatives to support smaller brands and designers. Fashion alumna Holly Fulton has collaborated with fellow designers to form the Emergency Designer Network, which is helping the NHS with gown and mask production in response to the British Fashion Council’s request for support. They are aiming to form a network of ten designers and makers across London to support the small-scale manufacturing of medical garments and face masks.

Fashion student, Danielle Elsener, has developed a zero waste scrub set pattern. The pattern is open source and downloadable to print at home. Her message alongside the pattern, which can be downloaded and printed on A3 or A4 paper, reads ‘Please use for the good of the NHS staff and all medical workers in need of proper equipment. It’s not a perfect solution, it’s simply an active response to this time of need.’


Click here to find out more about how the RCA community are responding to Covid-19.