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COVID-19 response

Personal Protective Equipment

Ensuring safe PPE and supporting new manufacturers

As soon as COVID-19 became problematic in the UK, NPL started investigating how to utilise its wealth of experience and scientific capabilities to help increase the availability of PPE. Medical devices and PPE are regulated in the UK and internationally, this includes requirements for manufacturing and testing (BS, EN and ISO specifications). NPL signposted new manufacturers of PPE and medical devices to relevant standards, and assisted with the interpretation of standards to provide clarity on the requirements for conformity.

Early on, NPL supported several organisations in their production of face shields, also known as visors, including companies who were using 3D printing as part of their process. NPL assistance included advice on designs, materials used and cleaning, as well as modelling of critical design aspects (such as field of vision and area of coverage). We also connected manufacturers and designers with materials suppliers, facilitating collaboration between multiple organisations across numerous projects.

In addition, NPL provided support to organisations bringing new face masks and publicly worn face coverings to the market. Initially, this included advice on standards and material selection. NPL then created its own bespoke face mask testing rigs, initially for surgical face masks which had to meet the requirements of BS EN14683. The tests chosen were those deemed most critical to the performance of these products – breathability, filtration efficiency and liquid penetration resistance. Following on from this, NPL extended its capability to tests associated with FFP-type face masks, with the provision of tests in which the mask is fitted to a range of test heads (BS EN149 tests). The test rigs were completely designed and built by NPL to provide test data to help demonstrate potential compliance with relevant standards, and also to give additional data to designers seeking to refine and optimise their designs.

Advice and testing were subsequently extended to manufacturers of publicly worn face coverings and novel face mask designs. This predominantly involved modified testing processes to gather useful data about the performance of these products before they were placed on the market.

NPL North, the team within NPL performing this testing, worked with manufacturers throughout the UK, including many SMEs, to ensure the safe introduction of both large quantities of PPE to the market and highly novel products that satisfied niche requirements.

NPL was also involved in determining whether PPE could be effectively cleaned and re-used, through careful specification of the cleaning process and protocols. This involved looking at changes in material properties, and hence performance, during and after cleaning, with particular consideration of chemical effects.

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Impact during COVID-19

  • Worked with companies to increase their understanding of the standards and guidance on PPE
  • Supported the Notified Bodies to maximise their testing capability and efficiency
  • Helped to grow domestic PPE manufacturing capability
  • Helped to bring novel designs, low cost alternatives and new materials to the PPE market
  • Ensured safe products were available and being used  

Working with UK companies

Protecting Heroes

NPL worked with Protecting Heroes, a not-for profit Community Interest Company, which was focused on the rapid production of high-quality face shields. We assisted with the design and production of demonstrator items, as well as ensuring the product complied to the applicable testing requirements EN 166, EN 168, EU 4016/425, and received CE certification. NPL set up a packing, quality assurance and distribution facility for the face shields at our Teddington site, staffed by NPL volunteers. The face shields are amongst the most highly rated in the world and frontline clinicians say they are the best and most comfortable they have ever used.


Skyrora is a private rocket company which is developing the next generation of launch vehicles for the small satellite market. During the COVID-19 pandemic Skyrora developed a 3D printed design for a face shield. NPL supported Skyrora by giving guidance on full testing and the CE certification process. NPL used its 3D printers in Teddington, Strathclyde and Huddersfield to boost their manufacturing capacity, so that they could rapidly assemble and deliver face shields to care homes in Scotland.

Supporting PPE manufacturers

“After one short conference call to capture our requirements, NPL were able to return testing simulation results to us within 48hrs.  This helped us expedite the design process, gave us greater confidence of the expected outcome and enabled us to progress the relevant approvals much quicker than anticipated.”
Neil Clarke, Head of Ideas & Innovation, Gripple

“NPL have been an invaluable source of knowledge, expertise and contacts, supporting us greatly as we pursued our coronavirus project. NPL have helped us to operate confidently in what is a critical and highly technical area, enabling us to achieve our project in the minimum timeframe.”  
Caroline Faulkner, Director, Faulkner Moulds Limited

“I have recently been in touch with NPL at their Huddersfield University campus office when I was looking for advice regarding the testing required for the face shields my company was wishing to produce for use during the COVID-19 pandemic. The advice they gave me has been invaluable.” 
Nigel Coates, Managing Director, Leeds Vacuum Formers


Andy Morris, NPL’s North of England Operations Manager, has been made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020, for his services to the Manufacture and Supply of Personal Protection Equipment during the COVID-19 response. 

Find out more about Andy Morris and his work on PPE

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