The schoolboy brothers making coronavirus visors for care workers | Technology

The young brothers were thrilled to find a 3D printer under their Christmas tree. Joseph, 13, planned to make Minecraft figures; Isaac, 11, Pokémon characters.

But the Sparey-Taylor family was about to move house, so the printer stayed in its box for a few weeks. Then lockdown came. The move was off, the boys’ school closed, and the 3D printer seemed a good way of filling long days at home.

Instead of Pokémon and Minecraft figures, the boys – with help from their parents – embarked on a very different project: printing PPE visors for people working in local care homes in Wrexham, north Wales.

A month after their first attempt, the project has grown into a volunteer hub, manned by 30 people around the clock based in a local school and using dozens of donated and crowdfunded printers to supply 200 visors a day. A new injection-moulding process will shortly come on stream, enabling the group to increase production to up to 8,000 a day.

“I am so proud of them and how this has grown,” said Rebecca Sparey-Taylor, a curate who had been due to take up a new post today as vicar for four churches in Denbigh before lockdown scuppered the move. Graham, her husband, lectures in automotive engineering at the University of Wolverhampton.

The boys designed their first visor on the basis of a photograph posted online by an engineering friend of the family. Within a few days, a Facebook appeal had resulted in donations of acetate sheeting to use for screens; and within a week, Ysgol Clywedog senior school in Wrexham had offered its computer department and invested in 10 3D printers.

A volunteer at Ysgol Clywedog in Wrexham, north Wales, making 3D-printed visors. The hub is functioning around the clock.

A volunteer at Ysgol Clywedog in Wrexham, north Wales, making 3D-printed visors. The hub is functioning around the clock. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Observer

A second appeal, asking for the loan or funding for more 3D printers, resulted in 9 to complement the school’s 90 computers.

Last week, the hub, now known as PPE Hwb Wrexham, heard that two injection-moulding machines – one donated by Toolmakers Ltd and Newton Plastics Ltd, and the other funded by North Wales Freemasons – will be set up this week, allowing a huge increase in output.

“We have a fantastic team of volunteers,” said Rebecca Sparey-Taylor. “Some have tech backgrounds, but we also have some with no experience, including relatives of NHS workers. I’ve been impressed by the number of teenagers and students who’ve volunteered. Young people get such a bad press, but they’re so keen to help – they’re an absolute inspiration.”

Wrexham councillor Phil Wynn, who has been heavily involved with the project, said: “We’d hoped to make a few hundred masks, but we’ve gone from this to a project where we make 1,000 visors a week – and that number is growing. We have people at home working on their own machines and in schools across the town.”

The boys are still producing visors at home, and visiting the hub regularly, said Sparey-Taylor. They have been astonished at how quickly the project developed. “I heard Joseph describing it as like having a caterpillar in your hand which grows into a beautiful butterfly and flies away.”

Isaac said he felt “kind of overwhelmed” by the speed of events. “There’s so much going on now, but I feel proud at helping to start it off.”

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