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Laser subcontractors assist coronavirus response

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Dave MacLellan, executive director of AILU, discusses how UK laser firms have answered the call for manufacturing to aid the fight against Covid-19

The emergence of the new coronavirus has resulted in an unprecedented global demand for equipment, machinery and diagnostics. Providing protection for the public and key workers, together with the equipment to support intensive care units, has driven an urgent priority for industrial manufacturing organisations around the globe to start making new or existing designs in high volume and at short notice.

The laser community represented by AILU members has risen to the challenge admirably, and it would not be possible to mention everyone involved. However, below are a few case studies highlighting how manufacturers and laser users have responded to the urgent needs of the NHS in the UK.

Creating safe spaces

Supermarkets, pharmacies and anywhere people need to go for essential supplies are being transformed by the addition of shielding panels in metal and plastic. These have required rapid solutions that lend themselves to laser cutting – keeping many laser job shops busy during the lockdown period. Whether it is a metal partition for a supermarket or an acrylic dispensing window for those having direct interaction with the public, lasers have provided the solution and most subcontractors have seen some of this business – albeit not necessarily replacing the volume of business lost in other markets such as aerospace, energy and automotive. Laser cutting companies have found themselves to be key workers and have needed to introduce additional shifts, working from home and social distancing measures to ensure the safety of their workforce.

Face masks for health workers

The need for full face visors to protect doctors and nurses treating infected patients has been met by local informal networks of makers together with colleges, universities and companies with the capacity to create visors from laser cut plastic, sometimes with 3D printed support brackets. Some designs allow the full face mask to be made from two different materials as shown in the pictured example from Cutting Technologies, a laser cutting job shop near Barnsley in Yorkshire. Batches of 10,000 have been produced to keep one of the major suppliers of the NHS equipped with sufficient stocks to meet the growing demand.

Laser cut parts for full face visors produced by Cutting Technologies of Barnsley.

Trolleys for new hospitals

The re-purposing of exhibition spaces to make temporary field hospitals like the NHS Nightingale Hospital in London – built from scratch in 10 days at the Excel Centre – has required new beds, medical equipment and other standard hospital furniture and accessories like trolleys. Gratnells of Harlow uses laser tube cutting systems capable of high throughput profiling of various tube sections to make trolleys and storage systems for schools and hospitals. The hospital trolley range comes coated with anti-microbial powder coating on all the metal parts which were laser cut and assembled to meet the urgent demand for the hospitals.

Hospital trolley made using laser cut tubes from Gratnells in Harlow.

Oxygen generators for Covid-19

In hospital intensive care units there has been a requirement for bulk storage and generation of medical grade oxygen to supply the hundreds of ventilators and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines that are critical to support the lungs of people suffering from Covid-19. Each ventilator requires at least 10 litres per minute and CPAP machines can require 60 litres per minute. The reliability of supply is critical in a hospital, and MSS Lasers of Rugby in Warwickshire have risen to the challenge of providing their oxygen generators (Oxycube), which are similar in many ways to the nitrogen generators they have been supplying to laser cutting companies for many years.

Oxygen generator for medical grade oxygen from MSS Lasers in Rugby.

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