Amid the most pressing issues of this virus outbreak is the lack of proper personal protective equipment, or PPE. Several students in the community with access to 3D printers have taken the initiative to print the headband for face shields at home to deliver to various organizations.
Their inspiration came from a movement in the 3D-printing community to help those health care professions in need of PPE. Sixth Former Alexander Greer is one of the students making face shields.
“There’s a lot of stuff online. There’s basically been a huge upsurge in the 3D-printing community to try to come together and make PPE for people considering how useful the technology is,” Greer said. “I guess I was just looking around online and found lots of other people doing something similar, so I thought I’d get involved.”
Commonly, 3D printing is used for prototyping, not mass-producing medical equipment. Fourth Former 3D-printer Elijah Lee thinks the necessity of PPE has called for a shift in its purpose.
“The lack of ready access to PPE kind of lends itself to the concept of rapid manufacturing,” Lee said. “[3D printing] technology is not intended for manufacturing, but you can use it like that in some cases.”
Third Former Zach Shah’s inspiration for printing face shields stemmed from his parents’ work in a hospital.
“Both my mom and dad had to go to the hospital one day, and I was originally just sort of planning on buying masks from Home Depot because I knew how difficult it was for all the patients,” Shah said.
Shah was unable to find masks in the store due to the high demand. Instead, Shah decided to print face shields himself.
“I asked my dad and, because of corona[virus], 3D printers were a lot cheaper, so we were able to get one. With my dad, I just started printing and then delivering them to everyone at the hospital.”
The face shield’s design cannot be altered. For hospitals to put these shields into use, 3D printers must follow guidelines.
He explained, “If you modify it, then it’s no longer the same design. So for any place that takes that design, you have to keep it the same.”
The speed at which each 3D printer can print and the number of shields that one can print at a single time depending on the printer being used. In Greer’s printer, three masks can fit at once and each set takes five hours. At this speed, he had printed seventeen at the time of the interview.
In Shah’s printer, “It takes about five hours to make two of them because it basically prints two over each other.”
Speed is not the greatest challenge the students printing face shields deal with. Instead, it has become increasingly difficult to locate the necessary materials.
“If I can get them [the materials] to my house, we can print them no problem. It’s just a matter of getting the materials,” Shah said.
Greer has not yet delivered any face shields that he has printed. He was planning on giving them to an assisted-living facility, but they were not in need at that time. Instead, he aims to deliver the face shields to a local hospital. Shah is delivering boxes of PPE to Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Lee is still working on having the design of the face shield fit in his printer. Both Greer and Shah will continue to print face shields until the demand is over.
“Once I find somebody in need, I’ll probably meet that demand. I don’t know how many that will be. But as many as I can,” Greer said.
Shah has been encouraged to continue by the appreciation he has received from the hospital workers.
“I realized how much people really cared about what I was doing. I had a bunch of nurses who got together to send me like a video of them thanking me,” he said.
Greer’s motivation is personal.
“I just thought you know, many years from now, I want to look back and say, ‘What, did you do during the pandemic?’ Greer said. “I want to have something that I can answer with.”