Charitable engineer turns his hands to PPE for pandemic

An engineer who has been making free 3D-printed prosthetic hands for children has turned his own hands to making personal protective equipment (PPE) for Australia's essential workers during the Covid-19 crisis.
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Matt Bowtell shields

An engineer who has been making free 3D-printed prosthetic hands for children has turned his own hands to making personal protective equipment (PPE) for Australia's essential workers during the Covid-19 crisis.

Mat Bowtell was an automotive engineer until he was made redundant a few years ago and chose to use his payout and crowd-funding to obtain equipment and software to create prosthetic hands at no cost to their recipients.

Now, this engineer's skills have found a new purpose during the coronavirus pandemic. He has raised $33,482 in community funding to produce up to 4000 PPE face shields for essential workers.

"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 20 3D printers in his Phillip Island facility 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."

Clearly for Bowtell it's not about making a profit or being a hero. It's 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."

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, only one Australian factory produced surgical masks and there was only one significant producer of ventilators. Former industry minister Labor senator Kim Carr said this raised the question of how Australia has allowed key strategic industries to disappear. With those industries went many engineering jobs like Mat Bowtell's.

Image: Mat Bowtell (R) in a PPE face shield printed on a 3D printer in his factory.