From hobby to coronavirus fight

Aziz Idris

When COVID-19 first bared its teeth, a small local community was converging to tackle the crisis with a pastime activity that brought them together in the first place: 3D printing.

An alumnus of the Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Programme (SSEAYP), who is also a 3D printing hobbyist, had an idea of enlisting a group of fellow enthusiasts to join him on the fight via Facebook.

Today, Ahmad Zaki bin Haji Jamaat, also known as Jack, is leading a group of volunteers in fighting the outbreak on what he called “the backline”, by producing face shields in a makeshift lab.

For Jack, what started as a passion for 3D models has now turned into a full-fledged campaign to assemble thousands of reusable face shields for medical frontliners.

“We’re collaborating with 3D hobbyists and small companies to make a difference,” he said. “The effort in and of itself is a worthwhile project to provide solutions through innovation, especially due to the fact that 3D printing is quite foreign to most Bruneians.”

Freshly printed 3D frames used to make face shields. PHOTOS: AZIZ IDRIS
Ahmad Zaki bin Haji Jamaat presents face shields to a representative from the Ministry of Health (MoH)

He added, “I believe this is a phenomenal effort to help our healthcare professionals.”

The simple and lightweight design was based on open-source files created by a designer from Switzerland, comprising a clear plastic shield to cover the face and a visor frame across the forehead.

A standard three-hole punch is used to make holes in the shield, so it can clip onto the visor. As the shield is worn over a face mask, it provides an added layer of protection against infection.

“We use 3D-printed polylactic acid (PLA) filaments. They are made of bamboo and does not harm the environment,” he said. “We then attach a sheet with three punched holes and we get a pretty effective face shield.”

The team ensures that all the face shields go through a sanitising process prior to being distributed to healthcare workers.

“It’s just amazing how the network has come together in these tough times. I hope more 3D printing enthusiasts will come forward and strengthen our community in this fight,” he said.

Currently, the group is able to produce 200 visors per week. It takes about 90 minutes to produce one visor. However, the open-source file allows more components to be printed simultaneously instead of one component at a time.

So far, 600 visors have been distributed. But Jack added that the transparent plastic sheet that forms the shield, which needs to be either replaced or sanitised after each shift, is in greater demand.

Muhd Nadzri and Lim Kai Book, who studied 3D-printing design and rendering, told the Bulletin the pair decided to join the project due to their expertise.

According to Muhd Nadzri, “we want the medical frontliners to know that they are not alone. We’re ready to help in whichever way we can and to support our fellow Bruneians”.

Lim lauded the sacrifice of the medical staff and hoped that “the 3D-printed face visors can help them (frontliners) to do their job more effectively”, adding that “I believe we can fight the virus together if the community cooperates with one another”.

Meanwhile, Mashriem Taufik, who recently picked up 3D printing as a hobby, said that he saw the campaign as an opportunity to show his appreciation towards the medical professionals.

On the 3D printing community, he said, “It’s amazing how the network has grown. Together, we can actually make a difference from our home by printing as many visors as we can.”

Globally, 3D printing enthusiasts, business operators and the design community have mobilised similar initiatives in their respective regions in response to the pandemic.

In addition, a reputable design firm has adapted their furniture production facilities to making face shields while leading fashion brands are producing surgical masks not only for the health workers but also members of their communities.