As Ireland begins to emerge from the Coronavirus outbreak, I-Form, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Manufacturing headquartered at University College Dublin (UCD) has secured additional funding for two of its projects in response to the pandemic.
One project focuses on the 3D printing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), while the other measures Covid-19 levels in wastewater plants. Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said commended her colleagues for their efforts: “I would like to congratulate my UCD colleagues who have been successful in receiving funding today for their new COVID-19 research and innovation projects. A significant number of UCD researchers are continuing to deliver key research as part of our national effort to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The investment provided by SFI through this Rapid Response call is a critical mechanism for supporting them to carry out this vital research at this time.”
The global shortage of PPE in mid-March resulted in the HSE spending over €200 million on PPE from China, compared to an average annual spend of €15 million. This was before the pandemic had reached its peak in Ireland, and before hospitals knew whether their ICU capacities would become overwhelmed. In response to the demand for PPE at this time, the project entitled 3D printing PPE for healthcare settings in collaboration with I-Form was launched. Professor Denis Dowling, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and Professor Dermot Brabazon, School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, DCU, are co-applicants for this project. The project enabled the production of 600 face-shields for frontline workers. The efficiency of the 3D printing method has been noted, with one part being produced every 17 minutes
Now, 3 months after the PPE shortage, funding of €126,071 has been secured for the 3D printing of PPE. The funding will facilitate a steady supply of PPE to protect frontline workers, patients and their families. The focus for the project will be on the production of face coverings and environmental protectors, such as door openers and ventilator parts. According to Professor Dermot Brabazon, the Deputy Director at I-Form, the project will not only focus on the manufacturing of PPE, but it will endeavour to improve it, ensuring its functionality and comfortability.
A second UCD project which measures Covid-19 Levels in wastewater plants, led by Professor Wim Meijer, has secured funding of €48,666. According to the Professor, this project will survey sewage and other bodies of water for the presence of Covid-19, thus determining the virus’ prevalence within communities. Although Dr. Tony Holohan reported that community transmissions of the virus had been effectively extinguished on May 19, the project will serve as a warning signal for any potential second wave of the virus. The project is in capable hands, as it utilises UCD’s expertise in the areas of microbiology, molecular biology, environmental biology, civil engineering and virology.
The question may arise as to why this funding is needed now, since the curve has been flattened here in Ireland and since we never experienced an overwhelming influx of ICU admittances during the outbreak. It seems that the projects look towards the future, where we will still have to deal with the lasting impact of the virus on the country. Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, TD noted that the projects “address immediate priorities to assist us with the challenges we face as we seek to reopen our society and economy, and get the country running again.” Additionally, experts such as Jason Swatz of Yale University have estimated that the pandemic will last for approximately 12-18 months, at which point a vaccine may be available. The implication of this is that long-term measures like these projects will be instrumental in keeping case numbers low well into the future.
Roisin Roberts Kuntz – Reporter