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Manchester Metropolitan’s PrintCity mobilises 3D printing facilities and expertise to offer solutions in the fight against COVID-19

A remote working approach

Following government guidelines, PrintCity - Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) 3D printing laboratory - had to initially close its doors and have staff working from home. The team took 3D printers home and utilised Skype and WhatsApp to continue producing and testing prototypes which could be used to support the shortage of hospital equipment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). It was during this time that the GC Business Growth Hub’s Innovation Development Manager, Mark Chester, who is based at MMU, developed ARMie, a hands-free handle device which can be attached to a drawer or door.


As a starting point, Mark used 3D printing designs which were available by Belgian company Materialise and developed an evolved version using Autodesk Fusion 360 and 3D printing. After going through a series of 10 prototypes, the final design was achieved. Following suggestions from Academic Lead, Professor Craig Banks, the team decided to utilise cable ties to secure it to the handle, instead of adopting nuts and bolts thereby reducing the contact with the 3D printed part and allowing for it to be attached to different types of handles.


“It is said that COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours, meaning that many handles could already have the virus on them when they are used.
A hands-free device allows a user to use their arm to open a door or drawer instead of their hand.
Although the virus will still be transferred to the arm, there is less potential that it will come in contact with the users nose or mouth.”

Mark Chester, speaking about the new device.

The device would not only help minimise the spread of the virus in  hospitals, nursing homes, nurseries and GP’s surgeries in the short term, but could also be used in the long-run to protect vulnerable people indefinitely.

Back in the game

Whilst working on the ARMie, the team was also approached by the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group to support with 3D printing pre-approved visors for Salford Royal and Oldham Hospitals. To produce these at a large scale the team had to return to and reopen PrintCity’s facilities. To ensure the health and safety of the staff who were to be involved, Project Manager, Alan Dempsey with the assistance of Technical Officer, Gary Buller, developed  safe operating procedures and risk assessments, which once approved by the University’s Health and Safety, Security and Estates teams allowed them to access the facilities once again.


Speaking on the strict protection measures put in place, Gary said: “A typical shift involved two staff members. We would remove a batch of prints from the machines, clean the bed and then set a new batch printing. The successful prints were post-processed, bagged up and collected weekly by an NHS representative”. In the end the team managed to produce 1,200 hardy, reusable visors in just a few short weeks, with the last batch going out on the week of 20th April.


Alongside these, the team also finalised the designs for the ARMie handle and made these freely available for anyone with a 3D printer to begin building. The files alongside the installation instructions can be downloaded here.

Whilst producing PPE, the PrintCity team also collaborated with PrintLab, a global 3D printing distributor and curriculum provider to develop a free online learning resource known as Pandemic Products. The fully-resourced project teaches students about virus transmission, whilst enabling them to develop new skills in design and Autodesk Fusion 360 or Tinkercad. The students are then challenged to apply their newly acquired knowledge and identify new ways to fight the pandemic.

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The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.

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