Port Stephens Businesses Innovate and Collaborate To Manufacture PPE for Healthcare Workers

Brodie Fairhall with one of the face shields developed at Tomago Aluminium.


COVID-19 has seen many businesses pivot and add to their capabilities.

Port Stephens CranesAdvertise with News of The Area today.
It’s worth it for your business.
Message us.
Phone us – (02) 4981 8882.
Email us – media@newsofthearea.com.au

Brodie Fairhall of Tomago Aluminium didn’t imagine he would be developing a boutique manufacturing industry to meet a medical need pre-pandemic.

But the innovation engineer works daily solving complex problems for Tomago, so using 3D printing to create face shields to combat COVID-19 was a natural progression for Brodie.

During the lockdown Brodie was like many of us working from home where he anticipated that Australia may end up in a similar situation to other nations experiencing a shortage of PPE.

Brodie’s manager, Mal Muddle, authorised the use of some plastics products from Tomago to test prototypes.

Mal Muddle told News Of The Area, “Tomago was very happy to sponsor Brodie with time and materials for the project.”

“A project like this is not anything Tomago ever thought we would be involved with, but manufacturers in Australia have to be innovative to survive, and supporting Brodie to create an innovative solution to a problem that would help frontline workers was something we didn’t even have to think about.”

Brodie said once he decided to develop face shields, he contacted hospitals, doctors and Members of Parliament to determine the best approach and to find out about requirements.

“I got stonewalled at every turn, because so many people were trying to do the same thing,” Brodie explained.

“So I thought it made sense to form an alliance and work together.

“We formed the Open Manufacturing Alliance which now has 307 members who have combined to make 50,000 face shields in the past few weeks.”

Brodie said the Alliance was formed of individuals who have 3D printers at home, as well as medium to large companies, some with hundreds of printers, or printer “farms”.

A few medical organisations are also involved.

“There were so many hoops to jump through.

“People on the ground were telling us they needed equipment but procurement officers were telling us they didn’t,” he said.

“The 3D community was so keen to help and individuals were making the shields, but ironically we couldn’t give them away, as hospitals weren’t sure if they were allowed to use them from individual suppliers.”

Some large medical companies became involved in the Alliance and were able to get Therapeutic Goods Administration approval for a design that people in the Alliance began producing.

“Once we had TGA approval and could sell the product, suddenly there was demand.”

Brodie said his role morphed from manufacturing product, to managing a huge team of volunteers.

“That was a challenging role and it’s not my area of expertise.

“People were all enthusiastic but managing volunteers can be challenging,” he said.

Now that the Alliance is operating well, Brodie is keen to progress work with Newcastle makers Sparkhouse, operated by health professionals who are working on creating a ventilator.

Some of the parts will be made with a 3D printer.

Brodie has predicted that the COVID-19 outbreak should have proven to Government and business that it is possible to democratise manufacturing.

“It is now obvious that we are capable of creating a model of quick response in the manufacturing sector, and this should help in future crisis situations where people will be able to learn from this experience, and understand and accept that it is possible to team up and manufacture products locally using innovation.”

Mal said it would be interesting to see the long-term impacts of boutique manufacturing in Australia.

“I think we now realise that there are industries and people who have skills that can ramp up and respond very quickly.”

“Normally we don’t ask locally for problems to be solved because we automatically look to China for cheaper parts or solutions.

“But this experience might change that,” said Muddle.



Leave a Reply