During the COVID-19 crisis, provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a major global challenge, prompting companies, universities and hobbyists to manufacture masks and visors that can help protect their local health workers. Now, UQ civil engineering researchers from the Folded Structures Lab who specialise in origami-style ‘curved-crease structures’ have teamed up with the University of Cambridge to develop a simple and effective solution to address this shortfall at a larger scale.
The team's design, known as the 'HappyShield', is a reusable face shield that transforms a single clear, semi-rigid plastic sheet into a face shield in just two folds.
With the addition of a strap, the shield conforms to the wearer’s head, and provides an effective barrier from splashes and sprays of infected bodily fluids.
Crucially, unlike existing face shield designs, the production of HappyShields can be adapted to the tools at hand.
Requiring nothing more than a pair of scissors, a ruler and a ballpoint pen, a face shield can be made by a DIY volunteer at home, or industrial methods can be used, utilising die-cutting machines that could produce as many as 50,000 face shields each day.
The design also features removable straps, which allows the clear plastic shield to be easily disinfected for reuse over multiple shifts.
Origami engineering is a rapidly growing research field that involves the adaption of geometric sheet patterns to invent and improve folded structures and devices.
Dr Jeff (Ting-Uei) Lee, a research assistant within UQ's Folded Structures Lab, says HappyShield's design is based on curved-crease origami – a hybrid of sheet folding and bending that produces complex 3D surfaces that impart surface curvature.
"The HappyShield was designed using our new geometric description of curved-crease origami, with consideration of sheet elastic bending behaviours in Rhino-Grasshopper parametric CAD software," Dr Lee explains.
"This allows users to pre-define the exact folded shape for a specific form and target volume with only five defined parameters.
"This means the HappyShield shape can be easily adjusted to maximise comfort."
The shield has been tested, with positive results, by ICU doctors at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, and has received CE certification according to UK/EU standards for infection control during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Joe Gattas, who leads the team at UQ's Folded Structures Lab, says he envisions the design being adopted around the world, using the raw materials that are locally available.
"We are working with a number of local partners to explore manufacturing and certification options for Australia, so please get in touch if you are interested in helping us progress.”
Instructions for how to make the face shield are available on the HappyShield website, and are currently being translated into ten languages.
Learn more about UQ’s COVID-19 research.