The power of repurposing: Case studies

As part of the research for this article, the authors interviewed executives from small manufacturers and others involved across the UK to get their accounts of how they repurposed their manufacturing during the first wave of COVID-19. The following case studies provide a further look at some of their experiences.

Rapid prototyping face shields. Image: Midton Acrylics

Midton Acrylics

Lochgilphead, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

Midton Acrylics are specialists in cast acrylic and create products such as lighting components, acrylic sculptural forms, recognition awards and toys — none of which were likely to be in high demand as the pandemic spread. Even before widespread restrictions were introduced in the UK, Midton had changed their shift patterns to limit the exposure of their staff. As the pandemic unfolded, and not being ‘essential’, Craig Cameron and his fellow directors regretfully put their business into lockdown.

The Midton team wanted to find ways to help their local healthcare workers, and realised that they could donate their own personal protective equipment (PPE) to nearby hospitals to help address the shortages. They phoned their local hospital and made the appropriate arrangements, cleaned the PPE, and laid it out for collection. But there was a feeling that a company that prides itself on its creativity and design skills could do more.

They had seen, on social media, open-source designs for visors, and they adopted one from 4C Engineering in Inverness. This design used acetate A4 sheets typically used in printers, and 4C Engineering had also identified the equipment needed to begin manufacture. With minor modifications, this seemed a practical way forward.

Donations from Midton and a parallel crowd-funding appeal enabled them to get the raw materials for the first batches to be manufactured. They described what they were doing on social media and donations flooded in from the local community, enabling Midton’s volunteer staff to make some 10,000 disposable visors in the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Community activity supported Midton’s efforts financially as well as through donations. For example, a local artist in glass, Kirsty Brady, donated a proportion of her sales to Midton’s campaign.

But Midton felt that more could be done, and they shifted their efforts towards reusable visors. Midton had some 3D printers and they invested in more, setting these to work building visors. Again, they picked up open-source designs which they modified to suit their equipment and their manufacturing approach. Midton and five local hobby printers formed a local syndicate and colla