As the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide, healthcare workers are facing a shortage of supplies —including protective face masks.
The Center for Innovation and Technology at Sam Houston State took the initiative and turned their 3D-printing capability into a small manufacturing site for face shields to be used by medical workers who are on the front lines of the pandemic.
Professors Dr. Pamela Zelbst and Dr. Jason Riley are printing visors, which are worn by healthcare workers. A piece of plastic sheeting is attached to the visor to act as a protective barrier between healthcare workers and patients. The shield can be either sanitized between uses or replaced.
“I was talking with Mary Henry, who is the wife of Pct. 4 Commissioner Jimmy Henry, and we were discussing the need for PPE’s (personal protective equipment) and how the Center for Innovation and Technology could help,” said Zelbst, who serves as the director for the center. “As that was happening I started getting all different kinds of emails with multiple kinds of 3D-printed PPE’ and the face shields seemed to be the product that was really needed by health care workers.”
Those helping patients fight the virus will still have to wear a traditional N-95 mask, but the face shield provides an extra layer of protection to cover their entire face.
As of Friday, COVID-19 has infected nearly 12,000 people in the Lone Star State, and has killed more than 225 Texans.
The virus has disrupted travel worldwide, leading to flight cancellations, quarantines and other breakdowns in movement. Texas, among other US states, has closed bars and restaurants except for takeout as experts warn about the importance of social distancing in slowing the spread of the virus.
With numbers rising and the demand for medical equipment also increasing, various university departments have stepped up to contribute during these unprecedented times.
For Zelbst and Riley the process to start building the face masks began fairly quickly.
“Our 3D-printer manufacturer Stratasys had already designed a face shield, so we really didn’t have to design anything … just print them,” Zelbst said.
Currently, the duo can print 4-5 face shields in a five-hour period, and have already made over 20 of them.
However, as is the case with most people making homemade masks, materials are hard to come by, which has forced Zelbst and Riley to adapt and use non-conventional materials.
“We needed a 3-5 mil shield and found that report covers are five mils, which is the strongest that we would need,” Riley said. Elastic is also difficult to find, because people are making their own face masks, so we discovered that medical-grade rubber bands can also be used on the shields.”
The SHSU group will start out producing a few hundred face shields, but hopes to continue the effort if they can replenish their resources.
“This is such an amazing effort and really shows what we can do when the community comes together,” Henry said. “We hope to soon have these face shields in the hands of our first responders, nurses and doctors soon.”