10 Sept 2021

3D printing in a pandemic: Maynooth University’s role

Libfocus is very happy to post the highly commended, and the winning, entries in the 2021 CONUL Library Assistant Awards. 
The first of the Highly Commended posts is by Sheree Yeates, Maynooth University Library

I am a library assistant working in the Library Information and Technology Department (LITD) in Maynooth University Library. Part of my role involves the day to day running of the library makerspace. In this space we provide three Ultimaker 3D printers, one of which can be seen below.

Ultimaker 3 Extended – Picture taken by Marie Cullen

These printers are normally used to print prototypes for students undertaking courses in areas such as Design and Innovation. During summer requests get a bit more fun and less academic like the below baby Yoda which was popular when the Disney show The Mandalorian first aired.

Thingiverse A picture of a 3D printed Baby Yoda

When the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020 it soon became apparent that there was a personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage, not only in Ireland but in the world. Little pockets of 3D printer users began to discover that they could aid in the fight against the pandemic, and this soon reached Maynooth University.

A number of people began to look into the possibilities. In discussion with me, Cathal McCauley, Head Librarian of MU Library said that ‘The project came about for a few reasons…the overriding one was the camaraderie of the national response that was very strong in March – June 2020.’ We began a project to create PPE. The project, which was made more difficult by the work from home order began in March 2020. It was a partnership between MU library and the Department of Design Innovation.

Each of the three 3D printers were relocated from the library makerspace for the duration of the project. Two went to Anthony Cleary, Design Studio Manager in the Department of Innovation. Anthony had a number of other printers which he also brought home from the design studio and began to create PPE in the utility room of his home. The third printer went to the University Librarian’s Cathal McCauley’s home.

Maynooth University

The process of printing is a simple enough one once you have done it a couple of times and have gotten used to the procedures. I provided brief initial training over Microsoft Teams and Cathal and his four children were ready to get printing. Cathal mentioned afterwards that ‘I think one thing the whole experience highlighted was the user-friendliness of 3-D printing. With some help from you (the author) and Anthony Cleary, inexperienced people like my kids and I were able to produce the content and repair the printers as we learnt about things like cold pulls and base plate levelling.’

Anthony sourced the files of the PPE that were to be printed. These files were found on websites such as Thingiverse. Thingiverse is a dedicated website with mostly free, open-source 3D print files created by hundreds of different people around the world. All the PPE files were open source and available for anyone to download and use.

Anthony began by printing two different types of visors. To do this he used the 3D printer to create the visor clip and then attached a piece of acetate to create the visor. He also printed face mask extenders to stop the PPE from hurting ears and contactless tools for opening doors.

                                                             Picture taken by Anthony Cleary                                                                         Top left – Contactless Tools, Top right – Face mask extenders, Bottom – visor clip 

Cathal and his children also printed face mask extenders, contactless tools and face mask buttons for a local charity that was making cloth face masks.

Between the two homes, hundreds of visors were printed, more than 1,000 face mask extenders, 200 plus contactless tools and hundreds of facemask buttons were also printed.

The PPE and accessories were delivered to Tallaght hospital over two months. As PPE was needed in many different areas over the pandemic, these were also distributed amongst other areas of the local community. This included local nursing homes, pharmacies, gardaí, paramedics and other frontline workers.

Tallaght Hospital

I felt proud to be part of the effort to bring PPE to those who needed it. Maynooth University’s 3D printing effort even received local and national recognition when Nuacht TG4 came to interview Cathal and his children. They demonstrated on air how the printer worked and how the PPE accessories could be used. Their work was also featured in a Liffey Champion article.


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