The ongoing coronavirus pandemic may have halted car production at Nissan’s Sunderland factory, but the plant has now switched to packaging and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) for the NHS.

Although the factory is not making any specialist equipment, it is boxing components for plastic masks and face visors. The parts are made by volunteers up and down the country, who use their 3D printers to build the components, then send them to the Sunderland factory.

Each visor comprises three components, with the see-through visor itself mounted on a frame attached to an elastic headband. These three parts are then distributed to NHS procurement centres in “ready-to-assemble” format. The NHS has requested the visors are sent in this manner to minimise the risk of damage during transit, and to maximise the number of visors that can be dispatched.

Nissan is hosting a team of volunteers in its final assembly area, where the visor parts are sorted, then placed into boxes of 125 visors. Nissan expects more than 77,000 visors to leave the plant by the end of this week, with up to 100,000 being distributed weekly thereafter.

Adam Pennick, Nissan’s production director said the company’s supply chain and logistics teams were lending their expertise to the project, helping to distribute the visors among NHS trusts.

Nissan Sunderland PPE distribution

“It’s great to be able to play our part in helping to provide the NHS with these visors,” he said. “Our people are experts in the logistics behind an effective supply chain, and we certainly weren’t short of volunteers for this project.”

The project was inspired by four brothers, two of whom are engineers at Nissan’s Technical Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire. Production started with the support of crowdfunding and banks of 3D printers at the Grilli brothers’ homes.

Nissan Sunderland PPE distribution

Nissan has provided funds for an injection moulding tool that increases the number of parts produced, which are now being sourced from companies in Lancashire, Coventry and Gateshead. Because injection moulding allows for faster production of plastic parts, it has allowed the Grillis to increase the number of visors they distribute.

“We had the ability to support the national effort to produce more PPE for frontline health workers and we just had to help,” said one of the four brothers, Anthony. “We quickly mobilised to produce parts using our 3D printing capability at home and we’re grateful to everyone that donated through our crowd funding site to help us get this going.”

Gallery: Nissan Sunderland switches to PPE distribution