From home to hospitals across Scotland

How Aramco employee Rae Younger’s simple but effective breath shields went from a homemade prototype to being used widely by hospitals – to benefit both healthcare staff and patients.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Rae Younger wanted to do something to help.

As Senior Research Science Consultant in Drilling and Production Technologies based at Aramco’s office in Aberdeen, Rae designs innovative tools for production and drilling applications.

Rae says: “The pandemic had just started, and it was such a worrying and uncertain time for everyone. But I felt I could use my skillset somehow to help out.”

Setting the wheels in motion

At first, Rae wasn’t sure how he could help. As the news started highlighting the acute shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), especially for frontline healthcare workers, it became clear what he should do – focus his time and energy on PPE production.

With a background in mechanical engineering, Rae chose to do what he does best – designing and making things.

To begin with, Rae contacted several UK-based companies that were reported in the news to be designing ventilators and PPE, and offered his services as a volunteer.

But it didn’t take long before Rae decided he could also design his own equipment using his industrial prototyping tools at home.

Developing a prototype

Rae started designing and making vacuum formed visors that were robust, lightweight and easy to clean. Through social media, he reached out to ask whether anyone at his local hospitals needed these full-face visors.

Then came the first urgent request – from a friend whose wife was a specialist doctor at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Instead of visors, she was looking for a specific shield for the essential optometry equipment used in the hospital eyecare department.

Rae set to work immediately. He visited the hospital to see the equipment and take the measurements he needed.

That afternoon, Rae put together an initial design. Using his industrial laser cutter, he produced a series of prototype Perspex breath shields that were made to measure for the specialist eye equipment.

Explaining how it works, Rae says: “The breath shield attaches to the eye equipment and acts as a physical barrier between the doctor and their patient. It is clear and is specially designed to allow easy interaction and unobstructed access during procedures.”

Within just a few hours of the request, the hospital was able to trial the first set of Perspex breath shields that Rae had made and delivered. After getting feedback from the optometry specialists at the hospital and making some tweaks to the prototype, Rae was all set to make more units to order.

Rolling out production

The demand for Rae’s breath shields took off from there. Over the next few weeks, a growing stream of orders started arriving from eyecare departments throughout Scotland looking for similar breath shields.

At the same time, Rae also received requests from the Scottish Government. They provided him with a long list of hospitals that needed shields for their machines, and covered the postage and material costs for these initially requested units.

Fortunately, with hundreds of orders to fulfill, Rae didn’t have too much difficulty keeping up with production. By applying good design and engineering principles, Rae’s breath shields were not only effective and durable but were quick and straightforward to make.

After using up his own stock of material, Rae also called in a few favors from suppliers he had worked with previously. This meant he was able to source the raw materials that were in short supply during this time.

Support at work and at home

Importantly, Rae was getting the support he needed to continue with his breath shield production while still working full-time at Aramco.

Rae says: “Aramco, and in particular my manager in Aberdeen, were very understanding and supportive. They gave me the flexibility to plan my workdays around my visits back and forth to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to measure and fit the various shields I was designing for them.

“I’m also especially grateful to the company for funding to buy extra materials so I could produce more shields as the many enquiries and requests continued to grow.”

At home, Rae’s family, including his wife and two children, pitched in to help with the increasing orders. Together, they worked through the evenings and late into each night to package and post the daily batches that were made and sent all over Scotland.

Coming full circle

In October 2020, Rae’s wife was rushed to the A&E department at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where they discovered she had a brain tumor. After successful surgery to remove the tumor, his wife has now recovered.

While in the hospital with her, Rae was fortuitously reminded of his efforts to help the health service.

Rae says: “At the A&E department, I noticed various machines fitted with my shields. My wife underwent extensive eye tests in the eyecare department and it was also full of shields I had made for them.

“It was wonderful to see how these were being used and how people were benefitting from their use – including my wife.”

Being part of a national effort

Remarkably, over the first nine months of the pandemic, Rae produced around 750 breath shields from his home garage. He supplied and delivered a range of designs for the various eye machines that are now in use at hospitals and centers across Scotland.

Rae says: “Looking back now, the whole nation pulled together at a time of incredible need. We are all immensely grateful to our medical services that continue to do a fantastic job.

“Even though these shields I made are just a small part of a huge national effort, it felt good to be able to contribute and help.”