Face shields have come a long way since the last plague!
Paul spoke to long time friend of Pixelated People, Ondrej Rafaj for our first ever video podcast! Ondrej has been involved in an amazing project with 3D Crowd which is an online community of 3D printing enthusiasts who came together to 3D print Face Shields to protect our NHS workers during the Coronavirus pandemic. The community grew from 30 to over 8000 people nationwide within 4 weeks and they collectively printed over 180,000 Face Shields! Don't worry they didn't look like the ones in the picture above! 😂
😃 Check out the video below to find out more about the project or alternatively have a read of the transcript underneath! Enjoy!!!
Paul Shone: Hi everyone, I'm Paul Shone, co-founder of Pixelated People. We're a tech recruitment agency that matches tech talent to companies so they can create beautiful digital products together. I'm joined today by Ondrej Rafaj, an old friend of mine personally, and a friend of Pixelated People, as he's been involved in an exceptionally interesting project called 3D Crowd, which actually put together an open source project to 3D print face shields for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. And Ondrej was heading up the Scotland division helping with printing and logistic. So, thanks for joining us today, Ondrej! Ondrej Rafaj: That's alright. Paul Shone: Seems you have been on a pretty cool project for a while. How did you first get involved with the project, and, and 3D printing in general? Ondrej Rafaj: Well, I've been always, you know, a techy. So, 3D printer, when it came out, I had to have it. Paul Shone: Getting you all sorts of excited?! Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, yeah, pretty much so. The first thing I printed, I think it was a-, it was a bike hook. It was probably the most expensive bike hook in the world 'cause, you know, the, the 3D printer that I made it with, it was, like £6-700. Paul Shone: Wow, wow. Ondrej Rafaj: And I just printed something simple as a bike hook, but it, it, it just-, 'cause I designed it myself, you know, it was my first thing that I ever designed in 3D, and then, you know, just seeing it coming to life, that was just-, that's what it did it for me. And, yeah, the, the current situation with all the missing PPE, you just, like, pretty much every single person that I know that has got a 3D printer, we started thinking about how we could help. So, me and a friend, Gary Riches, we started to fundraise to kind of-, initially we thought we're gonna be able to support our printers going, 'cause if you've-, it's one 3D printer, the one's, Prusa printers that we got, they eat one spool of filament a day. I got three, so that's three spools of filament a day and it gets expensive. Paul Shone: Wow. Ondrej Rafaj: That's £60 at least, a day. So, you know, we run out of the, the budgets that we had on a side for this fairly quickly-, Paul Shone: Yeah. Ondrej Rafaj: And we-, we've seen the demand. So, so we started fundraising, and then other people got involved-, hello Sergio 👋🏼, who just introduced the fundraiser to their communities. Sergio, friend of mine from London, especially introduced 11,000 people. Paul Shone: Wow. That’s incredible! Ondrej Rafaj: It was-, he single-handedly clicked 'invite' on every single person he's got on Facebook, and he's organising those-, pretty much, you know, it's one of the biggest London gay communities, you know, that I've ever seen. So, yeah, we had tremendous amount of money coming in, so what we were able to do from that point was to do bulk orders on material, and to start supporting local makers as well. At that point we noticed that there's another effort called 3D Crowd, they seemed to have a little bit more money in their pot, you know, once, twice as much as we did, but the biggest advantage of what we seen in them was that they're a little bit more national. At that point we were just, you know, central Scotland, and these guys had people in a lot of places. Obviously, we didn't want to fragment the effort. Paul Shone: So, this is access to more people with 3D printers to scale up the project and then everybody can print more Face Shields? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, we had our own Facebook group where we organised or we got people together. 'Cause a lot of people with 3D printers, they'd been searching for groups on Facebook that do this kind of stuff. But, yeah, these guys they already had a-, not just a Facebook page, they had a website and a Slack channel where you-, or, Slack workplace, so, to communicate between themselves. We didn't want to fragment the efforts. So, so we just decided that it makes sense, you know? We are not a for-profit organisation, we just wanted to do some good, and there's no, you know, benefit in, in competing against a group that does exactly the same thing, and shares the same values. So, we, we joined them, and, kind of, naturally we-, you know, or at least here in Scotland I started organising the local group. It was quite the ride. Paul Shone: Was there a lot of people in Scotland with 3D printers? And how did you access them? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, yeah. So, we had people signing up from-, we had two printers in the Shetland Islands, a couple of-, in the-, on the Orkney islands, and, you know, Hebrides, everywhere is, like, you know-, they're the most remote locations you can imagine, and, and people are signing up, and because we had a fair amount of publicity, it was, like, through media, as 3D Crowd, we were actually able to match the makers with customers. So, we had a database, massive database of orders. I think it was 380,000 orders throughout the UK. Paul Shone: Wow. So, 380,000 face masks across the-, Ondrej Rafaj: No, that's orders. And each order was between five, ten to 7,000. Paul Shone: Wow. So, how many-, how many face masks were made, like, throughout this programme, in total? Ondrej Rafaj: So, we 3D printed and delivered, I believe, 180,000. Paul Shone: Wow, wow. Ondrej Rafaj: So, when we joined forces, 3D Crowd, hard to say, probably might have been, like 30 people. Within month and a half we grew the company to 8,000 people. So-, Paul Shone: Wow. Ondrej Rafaj: So, show me a single-, Paul Shone: 8,000 individuals in their-, in their houses at home with 3D printers? Just-, Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, yeah. Paul Shone: Individual effort, printing these things all day long to try and keep up with the effort? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, it was-, Paul Shone: Incredible. Ondrej Rafaj: It was absolutely amazing. Paul Shone: That's insane. Ondrej Rafaj: Show me a company that grew from 30 to 8,000 in 30 days. It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my entire life. I've seen some regions struggle. I think we've been amazing, and that was-, I've been extremely lucky on people. So, when we started this Slack workspace, we created channels for each main region. So, Midlands, you know, East, West, Kent, you know? We tried to structure the regions you have, manageable amount of users within them, so you do not forget anyone. London had couple of main regions, obviously, 'cause, you know, the population's so large, and then it's got the biggest concentration of techies, probably, in the world. And, yeah, so, that’s pretty much-, what we did on a national level, I started doing with Scotland. So, I've been looking for the most active people on, on the channels that are trying to help the others, and invite them in as, as co-ordinators for their local areas. And then, I pretty much, didn't have to do much more, 'cause they just took care of their regions. I've pretty much just been an assistant. I've been an assistant to them to-, Paul Shone: A glamorous assistant helping out. Ondrej Rafaj: You know, if they had 1,000 parts ready to be shipped, I make sure that they get the visors. Paul Shone: Have you got one of the visors that we can see? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah. So, this is it. Paul Shone: Cool! Ondrej Rafaj: This is not the latest design. This is just one that I happen to have in my car when, when we make deliveries, we've got operating procedures, we don't want to make more damage than is already out there. So, we actually always wear those. We wear protective equipment. We're not touching any of the previous parts. You come from shopping, you might be contaminated. We were just trying to minimise the amount of contamination that could potentially spoil those. Paul Shone: Did you say that there was another design as well? Ondrej Rafaj: Oh, yes, yeah. We, we went a long way. There's a-, this one-, this one's private. So, yeah, I've got the leather for it as well. So, I really hope I'm gonna be able to go shopping in Tesco's or somewhere with, with this. Paul Shone: That's absolutely brilliant. So, that's based on, like, the, the original plague mask? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, the original one, actually, the original one was designed this way so they can have-, during the plague was just loads of foul smell everywhere, so they actually had herbs stuffed in the beak. So, you know, like lavender and all the different nicely-smelling herbs that were just, kind of, negating all the stuff that was going on in London. But that was the idea. Paul Shone: Yeah. I suppose there were a lot of dead bodies around back then? Ondrej Rafaj: But no, yeah, it's, it's good fun. Paul Shone: Very good, brilliant. Ondrej Rafaj: It, it does-, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get some serious social distancing when I-, when I put that on. Paul Shone: Well mostly because no-one's gonna be able to come within two, two metres of you 'cause of how long that beak is. If they're rather keep their eyes, that is.
So, how did-, how did the logistics work? Obviously you've got, what, 8,000 people working printing these masks in various regions around the country. How were they gathered together to then ship off to the various client? Ondrej Rafaj: So, that was the second amazing thing. That was, if you needed something to be delivered, you sent a message. A single message, and you got ten responses back, 'I can deliver this,' 'I can deliver this.' So, we usually just picked whoever was closest to the pickup location, so we're not wasting fuel, and a couple of times we did a relay, so, you know, packed, if we had to send something down south or towards the border, we first stopped at Glasgow to deliver half of it, then somebody from Glasgow delivered the rest of the journey. We haven't had a single problem getting masks delivered. So, for example-, so, I live in California, which is a little village in Scotland. Paul Shone: I've been there, yeah. Ondrej Rafaj: I call the people here my Californian army. We had the local community hall to, to clean all the masks. We were dipping them in the cleaning solution, drying it and everything. Couple of guys on motorbikes, you know, they had this itch, they really wanted to get out but they couldn't during the lockdown. We printed them a letter asking for compassion from police officers if they stopped them. We actually had patrols stopping a couple of our delivery guys on the Island of Barra, and you maybe noticed in, in news the situation that is just awful, that, that when I spoke to some of the people, you know, that we're going to fulfil their order, I've never seen anything like that. They've been crying with a desperate happiness. I had to take a break for ten minutes before I made another call. It was-, it was tense, man. So, when those guys actually went to Barra, they, they had a backpack, on a motorbike. They got there. They got stopped by police, you know, just, 'What are you doing here mate?' 'You know there's lockdown?' So, when they explained what they're doing, they actually-, 'cause it was getting a little bit late, they actually took all the shields and they finished the delivery. So, they saved our guys, like, 60 minutes out of the journey just by delivering to the local care homes. We just gave them the addresses. It was just amazing. Paul Shone: It's incredible how everyone's pulled together, like, the effort that you guys have put in to, to create this scheme, and, you know, inevitably the lives that you've probably saved through the equipment that you've created is amazing, and it's great to see the-, Ondrej Rafaj: Well, hopefully. Paul Shone: The other services that, that are involved did their bit as well, gave you guys an escort. Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, hopefully. Plus, you know, they've really enjoyed the journey. It was a little bit long 'cause they, they, they got back around 3:00am. Paul Shone: Wow. Ondrej Rafaj: They couldn't go faster than 20mph on a motorbike, because there's no traffic in Scotland. When you go to Highlands there's deer everywhere, right? It was-, it was, like, going through a safari. I've seen the footage from one of the GoPros that one of the guys took. I've never seen anything like this, never seen it. Paul Shone: Really? Ondrej Rafaj: Like, stags, you know, everywhere, just seeing the headlights, just frozen, looking at the headlights. Paul Shone: They don't move either, they just stand there in the road, like, in our village there's quite a lot of that too. Ondrej Rafaj: Badgers, like-, yeah, it was, like, yeah, it, it was unreal, you know? When you look at the some of the apocalyptic movies, you know, the nature taking over and animals everywhere, and I'm telling you it was-, it was like that, and it was just a month into the lockdown. Paul Shone: Wow. So who were the orders for these face masks from? Obviously I imagine a lot from the NHS and care homes. Were there other companies that ordered from you guys as well? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, so, it was loads of social workers. Initially we had some troubles with hospitals, because they didn't know where it came from. The doctors, you know, a couple of times I had crying doctors calling me, it's, like, 'Can we please return those? We're not allowed to use them, but we've got no other stuff to protect us.' Paul Shone: But why wouldn't they be allowed to use them? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, because we-, well, we didn't have a CE mark. So, under the current regs-, you know, the legislation has loosened since the lockdown, so pretty much if you've got an operating procedure you can deliver. But, it takes-, it took us about a month and a half to get the CE mark. The CE mark was on procedure of manufacturing. Paul Shone: Okay. Ondrej Rafaj: So, now you can actually-, Paul Shone: So, is that about contamination? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah. So, it was towards the end, you know, when we started seeing all the orders being fulfilled when we actually got the order. So, the hospitals, initially we were unable to deliver to, but there were other hospitals, like, the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Glasgow. As long as we made it with the right material, PTG, then they actually developed a system which allowed them to clean those safely and reuse them. So, there were hospitals that actually were very progressive, and they got equipment that was free, that was free for taking. So, we all, just self-funded. Pretty much every other member had their own fundraising campaign, fundraising from friends to support the printing efforts. So, I heard about one organisation that eventually got paid. That was an injection moulding company, or organisation, out in Edinburgh that got a couple of grand, like, just to cover the material costs, from the hospital. But, yeah, nobody received a penny. Paul Shone: Really? That was going to be one of my other questions. Did the NHS or the Government actually pay for this effort? Or was the whole thing crowdfunded? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, yeah. So, I think the Government's involvement-, so, initially they'd been just ignoring us, you know, as you would imagine, but-, Paul Shone: Very busy, right?. Ondrej Rafaj: When we grew to, like, 3-4,000 members, we started producing a fair amount of stuff. So, they started noticing us, and that was the moment when we actually had to start working on improving the procedures and stuff. That did lose us some of the volunteers that were just, you know, 'I just want to print a couple of things, help out in a desperate situation.' I think none of us did anything like this before, so I think it was a natural development, but it's a shame that we couldn't introduce those procedures from day one to, kind of, get people used to it, and there was nobody just questioning why are we introducing this now? But, I think it was a really healthy development 'cause we just really, even ourselves, we didn't know where those components come from. So, what we did, we asked everybody to pack it in a resealable bag, write a date and what material it's from on the bag, and then we made sure that the bags were sitting unopened for a couple of days-, well, at least three days-, to increase that chances that if there's any virus on it then it would die. But, then, eventually we worked with a couple of Governmental organisations, NHS, we came up with a solution. We were using Milton tablets, you know, in a very concentrated bath, just put the masks in, wait some time, hang it, you know, in a clean environment. Everybody in full PPE, so, gloves, gowns, face shields, masks. So, we were cleaning everything, and that pretty much is-, that's pretty much what got us the, the CE mark in the end. The procedures got approved. And, yeah, 180,000 printed parts-, Paul Shone: Incredible. Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah. Out of one spool on my Prusa printer-, which is fairly fast-, I was able to make, probably, about 20 in-, well, 22 in 24 hours. Paul Shone: Wow. So, on average that level of machine can do one mask per hour? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, the-, some more cheaper printers-, Paul Shone: So, I guess it varies across different machines, right? Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah. We had a couple of printers that were making one a day. Paul Shone: Wow. Ondrej Rafaj: Well, you know, when you get to 8,000 volunteers printing, even if everybody did just one a day, it's 8,000 a day. Paul Shone: Amazing. Ondrej Rafaj: I don't think that's a bad result, you know? Paul Shone: On average how many per day do you think were actually made? Because it was probably a lot more than that. Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah. I've no idea. Paul Shone: Peak production. Ondrej Rafaj: I'd say plenty, plenty had to be discarded. So, it wasn't a huge number, but I know we've got this box with some that had some sharp corners and stuff that was just too complicated to clean, that they didn't-, when-, as it came out the printer there were burrs on it. So, put them aside. But, yeah, I think it was, like, thousands and thousands. Tens of thousands a day. Paul Shone: Wow. Ondrej Rafaj: At peak time. Paul Shone: Incredible. And, and this-, you mentioned before that you guys got quite a lot of press coverage. I saw that there was a-, an article on the BBC news about, about this project particularly, but was there-, were there other coverage as well?
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52201696 Ondrej Rafaj: Yeah, there was a couple of reports on ITV news. BBC, as you mentioned. Yeah, that was pretty much if you heard about 3D printing face masks-, Paul Shone: Yep. Ondrej Rafaj: It's a big chance that it was about 3D Crowd, or with a 3D Crowd volunteer. I've, seen a handful of articles about other groups. They may have not been as visible as 3D Crowd, but what we found is that we can really, nicely, work together. So, for example, Shield Force in Edinburgh, they started 3D printing face shields, and eventually they found out that it's actually not efficient enough for their setup. They didn't have thousands of members, they'd been gathering university printers and, you know, stuff like that. But, you get to, let's say, 100 printers, or 200 printers. So, they actually made a decision to switch for injection moulding. They found an injection moulding company. A company like this can make one in a, probably, couple of seconds, or half a minute, I don't know. I'd say it's gonna take 30 seconds to make one, maybe? They are all uniform, made in the same environment, you completely control who makes it and, and how it's made. So, we actually got our database of orders through, kind of, intermediary co-ordinators, together with those groups, and they started fulfilling our big orders 'cause their manufacturing capacity alone was a couple of thousand a day. They easily just swept through the database. The only-, our co-ordinator called whoever ordered those shields-, they've been using a slightly different design-, so, informed them that they're a slightly different design, explained what the change is, and asked if they'd be willing to accept the order. It's a slightly different design from a different supplier. If they said, 'Yes,' we marked it as fulfilled, helped with the logistics-, 'cause we had loads of people, you know, the relay, loads of volunteers with-, somehow nobody's on holiday or anywhere, so people had nothing else to do. So, we've been driving around, and it was amazing. And to be honest everybody, kind of, appreciated the chance to get out of the house, and especially if it's for a good cause. We made documents so if they stopped, you know, that they, they can verify what-, what's-, Paul Shone: What they're doing. Ondrej Rafaj: In the cargo. We had only a couple of people being stopped, you know? Especially in the remote locations, but otherwise it was fine. Paul Shone: And what was the response like from the NHS? Like, did you get any messages of thanks from them, or, any sort of, credit from them? Ondrej Rafaj: Yes. Somehow I didn't really-, I think I didn't really deserve this one, you know. This appeared. I don't know how they found me, but, you know, 'Thank you very much for the visors you made us. Really appreciate it. Ailsa Care Services'. You know, I didn't actually make them. We, we send them through the hub, because the community hall hasn't been always open, so, I put my home address as all the deliveries so I can, you know, always-there's always somebody at my home these days. So, I just loaded it in my car, took it to the community centre. So, probably that's how they got-, on one of the packages they've seen '3D Crowd, Scotland', and there was my address. Paul Shone: And your address? Ondrej Rafaj: So, I got a couple of those notes. And I got invited to a barbecue on a remote island in Scotland when this is all over. I met loads and loads of amazing people, and, yeah, it was really an eye opener on what you can do when you find the right people to do it with. That's the key. Paul Shone: The other thing that I was gonna ask is now you've build this amazing network of willing and able people, what else could be done with this network of 3D printers that could benefit the world? Could be turned into industry? I don't know. Ondrej Rafaj: No, no. Most people, they, they wanted to help out. Nobody wants to do this, you know, as a business. I'm building a little brewery, so what I want to do is to throw a bit party for everyone-, Paul Shone: That sounds like a messy night. Ondrej Rafaj: That was working with me closely, and that I was in touch with. Well, hell, whoever comes we've got a big, big paddock to host everybody. Paul Shone: Knowing you that would be a messy night, and a few sore heads the next day. Ondrej Rafaj: The next thing is to to, you know, to get this virus to back off so we can meet again with others, then throw a big party. Paul Shone: Yeah, yeah man. Well, look, congratulations on your efforts for this project! It sounds, like an incredibly selfless thing to give up your free time to help so many people, by the sounds of it and an incredible use of technology in order to be able to do that. So, look, credit to you and credit to everybody involved. Surely you've saved many, many lives. Ondrej Rafaj: Hopefully, hopefully. Thank you very much. Paul Shone: Well, look, Ondrej, great to talk to you as always, and thanks very much for your time. We'll be back following up with more features similar to this on other interesting based tech news, so hopefully we'll see you very soon. Peace out.