From Mumbai to Bengaluru: Innovation labs are making face shields for hospitals and cops

Updated: Apr 19, 2020, 09:19 IST | Ela Das | Mumbai

Jugaad proves king at innovation hub that's making M19 shields under lockdown, inspiring scores across India to replicate manufacture from open-source model

Volunteers at Maker's Asylum Mumbai's Andheri studio have inspired product labs to use laser cutters and simple materials available at stationary shops to ship off 1.40 lakh face shields to medical workers and police on Coronavirus duty. Pic courtesy/ Maker's Asylum Mumbai
Volunteers at Maker's Asylum Mumbai's Andheri studio have inspired product labs to use laser cutters and simple materials available at stationary shops to ship off 1.40 lakh face shields to medical workers and police on Coronavirus duty. Pic courtesy/ Maker's Asylum Mumbai

When Richa Shrivastava Chhabra and Vaibhav Chhabra learnt of the national lockdown on March 24, they decided that instead of being locked down at home, they'd stay at the Andheri East studio of their innovation lab Maker's Asylum Mumbai. "We realised that we could isolate ourselves at the lab where we have all our equipment, infrastructure and technology, to use to help build the healthcare system," says Richa, managing partner. Together with Vaibhav and lab manager Narender Sharma, she researched face shields, an integral safety tool to prevent the spread of infection via the face and eyes. They had in fact, been researching the M19 shields a few weeks prior, anticipating the demand that would follow. "Our first prototype was pretty basic, but we put it out on social media for our fairly active and close-knit maker community. Soon after, we started getting enquiries from doctors about the production and scalability of the product. The beauty of this design was that it took just two minutes to create with R25 worth of raw material."

Abhinay Mane

Soon, the team was user testing it, running through 25 iterations across JJ Hospital and Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College and General Hospital, because there were no product guidelines available yet. Finally, on March 25, they sent out their first order to Bangalore Baptist Hospital.


They realised that restriction on transportation meant that they would have to activate local ecosystems across the country to deliver these at a quicker pace and on a larger scale. "We couldn't make as big an impact working in silos in Mumbai. So, with our open-source designs, we overcame the supply chain and tedious logistics problem by getting other labs on board. Anyone with a laser cutter was connecting with their local hospitals, where the growing dearth of PPEs was making doctors and nurses jittery," says Richa.

Pritpal Singh

At the time of this article going to print, around 1,40,000 M19 face shields (R55 each) had been produced and supplied to hospitals, safai karmcharis including at the BMC, and policemen. Over the weeks to come, they plan to bring this up to a million through distributed manufacturing across other maker labs.

Saif Faisal, Richa Shrivastava Chhabra, Vaibhav Chhabra

Dr Monty Khajanchi, assistant professor, department of surgery, KEM Hospital, says, "We received the M19 shields from Maker's Asylum in the first week of April when there were none available anywhere. We are hoping the production of these continues since there is a huge gap between demand and regular supply of protective equipment."


In Jaipur, Ravi Santlani, who runs an education media house that employs a 55-member team, offered his resources to join the production network. Supplying to hospitals, doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers, the police, vegetable vendors, hawkers, and media personnel, Santlani says, "Our phones need to be recharged thrice a day because they are ringing incessantly with requests. Hundreds of social workers, NGOs, doctors, and police personnel call us for new supplies." The team at MakersAdda in Nashik decided to locally collaborate with Mobin, a small vendor who makes billboards with laser cutters, eagerly looking to do something for the community. With no labour to help him, he employed his family members to produce M19 shields.


Abhinay Mane, product designer at Godrej DesignLab and a hobbyist 3D printer, was in touch with a maker from Italy to discuss ideas around ventilator splitters and mobile testing vans. "As the pandemic grew, no one could anticipate what was needed and in what numbers. It's always interesting to create prototypes, but the challenge lies in making something that's viable. Also, with medical equipment, you need to adhere to certifications and permissions to be able to get a product out in the market. While this wasn't encouraging, I was still looking to do my bit when the idea of face shields began to float around, which could be made on a simple 3D printer. Initially, one shield took two hours to print. But, with an optimised code, we've brought it down to an hour." Mane supplies the shields to NGOs, who distribute the protective gear to the healthcare professionals.

Bengaluru-based designer, artist and maker, Pritpal Singh, was used to working with masks in his studio, which is prone to a lot of dust. After the lockdown, he noticed that a shortage of masks had developed for the general public. "Luckily, I had a 3D printer at home. Rather than waste time chalking out new designs, I decided to delve into the repository of designs available online on sites like Thingiverse and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to quickly produce a mask that was reusable. This one simply requires a cloth folded four times that you clip into the front slot."

Maker's Asylum Mumbai

Interdisciplinary designer Saif Faisal believes that designers are meant to be problem solvers. "The community, especially designers with a 3D printer at their disposal, have been trying to quickly think and respond with a solution."

Richa laughs that "all makers are jugaadus" at heart who will find a way to personally survive in a post-apocalyptic world. "Right now, we want to use that talent to support the healthcare system."

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