In one of the more unlikely stories to emerge from this epidemic, a group of club promoters, DJs and venue owners from Liverpool have banded together to build a 3D printing production line in order to provide much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the NHS.
While it might seem a sad indictment of the nation's preparedness for this epidemic that it should have come to this, it makes it no less a remarkable thing.
Spotting a local Liverpool lad who'd bought a 3D printer to self-print face masks for the NHS, the teams behind Circus, Chibuku, ENRG and The Merchant bar came together to get behind the project and up production, buying more printers and more material.
As I write this, the collective have already delivered thousands of units to the NHS, and are over £18k into a crowd fundraiser to make even more.
Here we speak to Rich McGinnis (of Circus and Chibuku) about how this all came to be.
How is it that a collective of DJs, promoters and venue owners have ended up making masks for the NHS?
RM: "We spotted a local Liverpool guy called Paul Heneghan on Twitter who'd bought his own 3D printer and was donating small numbers of PPE to the NHS. We got in touch and offered up space to expand, knowing that we would be able to raise funds and get the word out in order to expand the production.
"We have our whole team working on it at the moment whilst the bars and clubs are closed. Without Paul's guidance this 100% wouldn’t have happened."
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You're aiming to raise £25k, but how are you planning on spending the money (and how much, roughly, does one mask cost to make)?
RM: "We haven’t drilled down into the cost per unit yet as we've been playing with getting production up as fast as possible, working out quality versus speed, how different materials and plastics deliver different results. It's been a huge learning process as some printers are breaking down, some are flying!
"With the urgency of the matter our number one priority was to get PPE directly into the hands of frontline workers as quickly as possible. The main cost is obviously the printers. The plastic ranges in cost and we're still yet to find the best supply for consistent output."
Tell us about these 3D printers, where are you buying them from, how much do they cost, who's operating them, where's production taking place?
RM: "They're amazing things which we didn’t know much about, so it's been a steep learning curve. The technology is readily available and there is a whole world of people out there making files for people to download and create everyday items. The file we are using for the visors has been really well thought out from the perspective of quick assembly, strength per unit, reusability etc..
"We've sourced all the printers online, some from Chinese companies with stock already in the UK, the last bunch came from Holland. They vary in size and cost, ranging from £200 to £700 each, plus delivery. The majority of the printers are large high-volume units that can print multiples at a time, but that takes a lot of management. The smaller printers have better quality, but fewer numbers, so we are spreading it out to get the best outputs.
"Paul Heneghan is the technical guru here, and has been assembling the printers and keeping them running whilst we manage the production, distribution and enquiries, including some from Aberdeen to London. The majority of the printers are in The Merchant [McGinnis's Slater Street bar], but there are smaller units at home running all day, every day.
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As a promoter and venue owner, how hard have you been hit by this situation, and how do you see the scene bouncing back from this situation?
RM: "We thrive in these situations. Sure, it's a nightmare rescheduling shows and horrible to see what people are going through around us, but all we can do is look after our teams and focus on when it all comes back. This PPE project has been a life saver in terms of keeping the vibe up with a team who are used to being driven and focused on high pressure events.
"We have had a great year and are very lucky to have come through other major downturns, from the ash cloud to the credit crunch, by always running a tight ship. I think the pent-up demand for music events will be unparalleled, but it's all about timing. Once people are able to come out safely then I think the bounce will be huge. Liverpool is a resilient town.
"In terms of the scene, there are going to be casualties for sure. I do however believe there will be a swathe of new music, new promoters, and new crews with a new energy to make things happen. That’s more people for us to support, collaborate with and bounce off. As Jayne Casey said in Paul Du Noyer's book, Liverpool - Wondrous Place, 'a lull in Liverpool nightlife is like the vacuum that nature cannot tolerate."
Lastly, any thoughts on what to do with this stuff when this all blows over?
RM: "We have thought about this and the general consensus is that we will donate most of the machines to local schools and causes where they will go to good use. They are taking up a lot of space!"
You can donate to the PPE project here.
Main image: Chibuku/Facebook