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 some 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.
NPL also 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 companies throughout the UK, including many SME manufacturers, resulting in the safe introduction of large quantities of PPE to the UK market, and the safe introduction of highly novel products that satisfy niche requirements.
NPL was also involved in determining whether PPE can 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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