“Our 3D printer is usually making prototypes of sex toys, not things that could be helping the NHS on the frontline,” says William Garland.
William and his co-founder Andrew Crichton set up CMG Leisure in 2013.
The firm typically produces up to 1,500 of its Doxy wand vibrators each week, sold on well-known websites such as Ann Summers or Lovehoney.
It’s now also turning out 100 “ear savers” for key workers every day. The plastic product loops around the back of the head to relieve pressure on the ears caused by wearing face masks for long periods of time.
“When the scale of the pandemic became clear, we asked ourselves: what could we do to help with the product we’ve got?” says William.
“But we didn’t want to be flippant about it or cause offence by sending out the Doxy wands we usually sell as a gift.
“Then one of our team saw a call-out on social media for extra ear savers, which even included a design which we could do with our 3D printer.”
The firm has since donated ear savers to NHS departments across the country, including the neonatal intensive care and accident and emergency units at its nearest Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, as well as several care homes.
The Cornwall-based firm is one of many quirky companies that has decided to step in to provide medical gear during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Fashion School, a small business which offers workshops and design courses, is now on a mission to produce 750 surgical gowns a day.
Its director, Caroline Gration, would usually be putting on a class on Alexander McQueen or arranging a fashion “takeover” at department store Selfridges for her students.
But since the London firm was contacted by the Royal Brompton Hospital, everything has changed.
“If someone told us three months ago we would drop everything to organise mass production of a garment in a synthetic material, and get applauded for it, I wouldn’t have believed it,” says Caroline.
It now has two sanitised workspaces, one at the Royal Brompton, and another at the Royal Free Hospital where Caroline’s daughter is a doctor.
A team of volunteer machinists and cutters work seven days a week, from fashion designers and stylists to families and students.
“Many come from the fashion industry and may have lost their jobs, while others have been self-isolating on their own for weeks without anyone to talk to,” Caroline says.
Strict protocols are followed where the absorbent surgical gowns are made from operating theatre drapes.
PPE worn during the highest-risk situations are typically single use, unless they can be decontaminated. With sustainability a big focus for Caroline’s small firm, she hopes that it might one day be able to use medically-certified fabric which can be washed and reused.