Rolls Royce: Ingenious minds think alike

  • April 9, 2020

You don’t have to look far to see inspiring examples of manufacturers, librarians, students and 3D printing enthusiasts producing protective equipment for healthcare workers, and whether it’s a vast factory or a teenager in their bedroom, each face shield protects another person delivering care on the front line. 

Our company is made up of inventors, engineers and problem solvers, so it’s little surprise that many of our people have joined a growing global community of makers. 

What started with one Rolls-Royce person in Germany has rapidly turned into a sort of virtual global production line, with teams working around the clock to produce as many shields as possible.

How it began

“We heard about a colleague at Rolls-Royce in Germany who was using a 3D printer to manufacture face shields for healthcare workers,” says Jonathan Watson, Chief Manufacturing Engineer, Civil Future Programmes, Rolls-Royce.

That colleague was Paul Mück, who after speaking to a friend who is a doctor, learnt of the urgency for simple, effective protective equipment. He found several print designs for face shields available online, quickly decided to improve one of the designs and with support from his team, used 3D printers at our site in Dahlewitz, Germany to produce the first batch.

How it’s made

Our protective face shield is a relatively simple design, with three parts: a 3D printed headset, a transparent visor shield and a headband. After each use the headband is thrown away and the other two components are specially cleaned and reused.  

The face shield is used in addition to a mask and protects the wearer and their patient from droplet transmission. Paul’s improved design ensures that heat doesn’t build up so the shield is less likely to ‘fog up’, and is suitable for people who wear glasses. It can be easily disinfected and the plastic film can be replaced if necessary. It’s been tested with healthcare workers and is now in use in several hospitals, care homes and surgeries. 

If someone has a 3D printer, they can produce the parts, which can then be quickly assembled. 

Word got around to manufacturing teams in the UK, says Jonathan. “We have many non-metallic 3D printers across our facilities, which we ordinarily use for anything from manufacturing parts and tooling to training apprentices. We knew we could replicate the design and start to manufacture the shields too. Once we started speaking to colleagues, we realised that many of us had the same idea and the capabilities to make it happen,” he explains.

A virtual production line

“Once we started coordinating activity, people got in touch to say they had access to a 3D printer at home or in one of our facilities and wanted to start making shields,” says Jonathan. “People’s partners and friends have got involved too – some are printing shields at home around the clock.”

Now the team are setting up remote production lines around the world to make sure the shields use consistent designs and materials. They’re also helping to coordinate requests and direct the shields to where they’re needed. People will be grouped into small regional teams, such as in Barnoldswick, UK, where the first visor was delivered to a local hospital for infection control trials within 24 hours of the project starting. Having regional teams makes the supply chain very short and logistics easier, and allows employees to use their local contacts to ensure hospitals, GP surgeries, care workers and care homes get the supplies they need. 

At some Rolls-Royce facilities, 3D printers have been moved to the factory floor, so teams working on-site can produce more shields (at a safe distance).

An extra challenge is that many employees are currently working from home, which traditionally would make coordinating and setting up a production line difficult.

“In fact, it’s been the opposite,” says Jonathan. “People are using our internal channels to share ideas and have also been talking on social media; sharing tips with other companies and individuals who are doing the same thing. Suppliers have offered to source materials, contacts have shared posts where healthcare workers need shields, and the 3D printing community have worked together to make sure shields are safe and comfortable for the people who use them.”

A global community

Teams are currently set up in Barnoldswick, Derby and Hucknall in the UK, as well as Erlangen, Dahlewitz and Munich in Germany. There are also several employees producing shields at home, and the group is expanding every day. Now Jonathan wants to go even further. 

“We’re speaking to teams around the world. We’re drawing on the ingenuity of our people, as well as our experience in managing supply chains and setting up production lines,” he says.

In Derby, more than 200 face visors were delivered to a local hospital within the first 48 hours, two days later that number had tripled, and teams across the company are currently building a production system to increase the rate they can achieve. 

“It’s early days, but we are ramping up production quickly and teams are working around the clock. It’s been so inspiring – we have really talented people who are using their initiative to get this done and help healthcare workers around the world.”