University of Sydney students fire up rapid PPE prototyping

21 June 2020
Sydney student team successfully develops and tests a face shield

A student team has created a prototype of a reusable face shield, demonstrating how to turn university resources into a rapid manufacturing solution to respond to medical emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a bid to respond to the coronavirus and also develop useful products for hospitals beyond the pandemic, a transdisciplinary student-led team has successfully prototyped a reusable face shield.

In collaboration with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre X-Lab, a 240-student laboratory space with laser cutting technology, the team has developed and scaled an industrial process that can ramp up quickly to manufacture reusable face shields.

The group, led by PhD candidate Luke Gordon, and supported by the Research office in the University’s role as legal manufacturer, has named itself Project APPEAR, the idea being that it can provide personal protective equipment (PPE) when needed but stands down when not required. An added benefit is that the design of the equipment is flexible, durable and relatively cheap – meaning it also solves the issue of single-use/throw-away plastics in many hospitals for the shields used over face masks.

The face shields being trialled, based on an open-source design by Online Laser Cutting, have been created in collaboration with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital clinicians through the students’ connections and working relationships. The project work is being done on a voluntary basis; a grant application has also been made to extend the project. The team is proceeding with registering the shields with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

”Our collaboration has resulted in a reusable, rapidly manufacturable face shield that can help protect our frontline healthcare workers from aerosols – or airborne pathogens, as demonstrated during COVID-19, ” said Mr Gordon, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and Biomedical Engineering graduate in the Faculty of Engineering.

“Working across faculties, with the local health community and our industry partners, we have demonstrated that our agile university-based research unit can create a rapid manufacturing solution for the provision of local hospitals during medical emergency.”

Our collaboration has resulted in a reusable, rapidly manufacturable face shield that can help protect our frontline healthcare workers from aerosols – or airborne pathogens, as demonstrated during COVID-19,
PhD candidate Luke Gordon

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Laurent Rivory, said a number of the students including Luke Gordon came from the University-led multi-institution “CoVida” ventilator project, announced by Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently, which had an oversupply of volunteers. The students came up with the idea of APPEAR as a way to develop a healthcare solution that was relatively simple and cost-effective.

“We view this as a very educational experience for these students even if the context of having the University as device manufacturer is somewhat unusual in the sector,” Professor Rivory said.

“The coronavirus crisis is a good stimulus for us to innovate and push the boundaries across the board, including as we try to contribute in areas other than the leading COVID-19 research we are also conducting.”

Faculty of Medicine and Health PhD candidate, Claire Bridges, who joined the University of Sydney from Boston University in 2018 said: “PPE is the main defence our healthcare workers have to protect themselves from COVID-19 and other pathogens.

"We aimed to provide our local hospitals with quality face shields, rapidly designed directly with clinicians and prioritising their needs.”

As part of this multidisciplinary project, the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering’s FABLAB and the School of Architecture, Design and Planning’s Design Modelling and Fabrication Lab have provided their laboratories, laser cutters, expertise and 3D printing technologies to aid in rapidly prototyping many iterations of face shields to ensure the updated design meets requirements across a range of hospitals and healthcare specialties.

The prototyping process has been aided by an in-kind donation, with alumni-run Online Laser Cutting providing materials for the fabrication of 200 shields.

Project team

Founder and Lead: Luke Gordon – PhD Candidate, Faculty of Medicine and Health; Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering Honours and Bachelor of Science (Medical Science) graduate.

Production: Dylan Ashton – Research Engineer/PhD Candidate, Kolling Institute of Medical Research; Biomedical Engineering and Medical Science graduate.

Project management & communications: Claire Bridges - PhD Candidate, Faculty of Medicine and Health/Charles Perkins Centre; Biomedical Engineering (Grad Cert) and Master of Nursing;  surgical services registered nurse.

Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance: Samuel Gilbert – Saluda Medical; Biomedical Engineering and Medical Science graduate.

Logistics: Saron Berhane – Founder and COO of airborne diseases startup BioScout; Biomedical Engineering and Medical Science graduate.   

Clinical co-lead: Dr Michael Paleologos – clinical senior lecturer, head of Anaesthetics Department, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

Clinical co-lead Dr Ryan Downey - clinical lecturer, specialist anaesthetist at RPAH and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and a number of private hospitals.

Finance and Administration: Neil Gordon – FCPA Accountant.

Designer: Ben George - Online Laser Cutting co-owner; Mechatronics Engineering graduate.


APPEAR face shield qualities

  • Flexible design
  • Reusable
  • Less likely to break than hard-plastic 3D printed designs
  • Covers entire face, even up over the top of the head
  • Lightweight and comfortable to use for entire day
  • Can be manufactured in three minutes (laser cutting) so very scalable (about 10x faster than 3D printing)




Vivienne Reiner

Media and PR Adviser (Health)

Low Luisa

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering & IT)

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