At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Croatian healthcare system faced a global shortage of medical supplies such as gloves, masks and disinfectants that protect healthcare workers against infection with SARS-CoV-2. In March 2020, numerous VET providers engaged with this shortage in a bottom-up initiative to produce face shields through 3D technology.

Besides using their own 3D printers, VET providers demonstrated exceptional resourcefulness and cooperated with local libraries, primary and higher education providers, companies and local NGOs in sharing 3D printers, grassroots fundraising, procuring the raw material for the production and the distribution of face shields to hospitals, health care centres and emergency services. Local crafts, SMEs and several large companies soon supported the initiative by producing 3D-printed face shields, as well as supplying the necessary material and disinfectants for safe distribution to health care workers. Since the start of the initiative, many hospitals showed great interest in the face shields and direct cooperation was established at local level.

‘Viral’ community engagement inspired by a single student

The initiative to start producing face shields for healthcare workers came from a single student at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture from the University of Split (FESB); it was soon further disseminated by the Croatian Student Association. Initially, the face shield design was adapted from an open-source 3D technology proposed by the Czech company Prusa, a producer of 3D printers. Later, different VET providers also adapted other open-source designs to print the face shields.

The face shield consists of a 3D-printed frame, which is used to hold a transparent protective foil and an elastic band for attaching the shield. The printing of one face shield takes around two hours and health care workers wear them alongside standard medical masks for additional protection of their mouth, nose and eyes. Teachers from the participating VET providers expressed their enthusiasm for joining the initiative and highlighted the importance of local solidarity in the global crisis, open-source sharing of resources, and equipment and skills to help healthcare workers in the pandemic frontline.