Redundant engineer produces face shields for essential workers

An automotive engineer who was made redundant a few years ago has turned to making personal protective equipment (PPE) for Australia’s essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mat Bowtell, who owns 20 3D printers at his Phillip Island facility, chose to use his payout and crowd-funding to obtain equipment and software to create prosthetic hands at no cost to their recipients.

He has raised $33,482 in community funding to produce up to 4000 PPE face shields for essential workers.

Bowtell said it is not about making a profit or being a hero, but the can-do attitude common to all engineers, and using his skills for what society needs.

“It’s about survival at the moment,” he said. “Just helping people to get through this together.”

Only one Australian factory produced surgical masks and there was only one significant producer of ventilators prior to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Engineers Australia.

“As the government funding is limited to supporting Victorian Public Health and associated services, we are now able to continue to broaden our scope for supplying not only locally, but all around Australia,” Bowtell said.

Fourteen of his 3D printers are producing the face shields that will go to health workers and other essential service workers in private nursing homes, allied health clinics, veterinary clinics, supermarkets, petrol stations, kindergartens and schools.

“With 3D printing, we’ve been able to go from making hands to making face shields in a matter of, well, days,” Bowtell told The Guardian.

“To completely revamp our line, that’s how agile this technology is, and how flexible it is. It’s mind-blowing.”