People Are 3D Printing Personal Protective Equipment To Help Hospitals With Shortage Builders, artists and engineers from around the region are joining a global movement of people using 3D printers to create face shields for health care workers.
From NPR station

WAMU 88.5

NPR logo

People Are 3D Printing Personal Protective Equipment To Help Hospitals With Shortage

People Are 3D Printing Personal Protective Equipment To Help Hospitals With Shortage

People Are 3D Printing Personal Protective Equipment To Help Hospitals With Shortage

People Are 3D Printing Personal Protective Equipment To Help Hospitals With Shortage

John Grant is creating his version of a 3D face shield at the Baltimore Node, a workshop in Baltimore City. Dominique Maria Bonessi/WAMU hide caption

toggle caption
Dominique Maria Bonessi/WAMU

Builders, designers and engineers from across the region are joining a worldwide movement of people using 3D printers to meet a shortage of N-95 masks and face shields for hospital staff on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health care providers at hospitals around the region and globe have been rationing personal protective equipment due to the lack of supply worldwide. Doctor Koushik Kasanagottu with Johns Hopkins Bayview says the PPE shortage comes with a risk.

"If health care providers themselves start getting sick with the coronavirus then we're going to be in a dangerous situation because we're not going to be able to care for the patients in an effective manner," he said.

To fill the shortage of PPE, owners of 3D printers have taken designs from Prusa Research, a Czech-based tech company that designs 3D printers, to build face shields. Since mid-March, the company has been sharing open-source mask and shield designs so that those with the printers can help create them. In less than two weeks, the open-source face shield and mask design had more than 100,000 downloads from the company's website and 1.6 million views on their Facebook page; even Ford Motor Company and GE Healthcare started printing the design.

[Read the latest updates about coronavirus in our region here]

Across the region, smaller non-profit organizations in Baltimore, students in Montgomery County and school teachers in Arlington are getting involved.

This 3D printer is making copies of the headband that holds the transparent face shield in place. Dominique Maria Bonessi / WAMU

"This feels like it's the right thing to be doing right now," says Todd Blatt, an artist with the Baltimore Node, a workshop for people who do everything from woodwork to sculptures and 3D print design. "All these people are losing jobs and there are all these machines that are sitting around, so maybe we could use those machines to give people jobs and help the people who need protective equipment."

Blatt typically works on sculpture projects with a group called "We The Builders," a 1000-strong network of artists from around the globe.

"People from all over the world print these 3D [sculpture] parts then mail them to one location," Blatt says. "So we already had the network setup."

With inspiration from that worldwide network of 3D print artists, Blatt and his colleague John Grant in Baltimore traded in their artistry skills to help create the face shields. Blatt uses a laser cutter and long plastic sheets to cut out the design for his shields.

"In my work, every project is always different," Blatt says. "But building a giant sculpture and building a reusable face mask are similar to me because here's the goal, here are the tools you have."

Grant, a retired Air Force electrical engineer, is taking a different approach to his shield design. He's using plastic bottles for his shield. Grant says his wife helped him put out an ad on the Nextdoor app asking neighbors to donate plastic bottles.

"It's really kind of self-evident you need a good transparent material of enough area that it's going to cover the face," Grant says.

Grant's process takes about 20 minutes to make one shield, whereas Blatt can print dozens of face shields in an hour.

Blatt says he hopes to have 2,300 shields completed over the course of a week. He's looking to send his face shields to a friend at a hospital in Philadelphia. Grant hopes to send his face shields to Johns Hopkins Hospitals.

Over in Arlington, Virginia, Eric Bubar at Marymount University has already sent about 100 shields to Elmhurst Hospital in New York City.

"It's ground zero for the virus," Bubar says. "We're just going to keep printing shields until we run out of plastic."

Bubar created a drop-off box for those in the Arlington community to leave their 3D printed face shield parts. He's asking people to place the parts in a sealed bag and date it. They then get mailed to NOVA Labs, where the transparent shield is created and attached. Bubar has a GoFundMe page where people can donate money to buy more supplies.

Arlington Public Schools teachers are also getting involved. Technology Education Teacher Matt Cupples from Kenmore Middle School asked his colleagues to bring their classroom 3D printers home to help.

"I mean it's a way that everybody can do something to help," Cupples said. "We're all stuck at home. We all want to help. This is a way we can help. It's unfortunate our medical community needs these supplies."

Cupples says social media has been a great way to connect with his students and parents about helping with the printing effort.

High school students Ethan Till and Tyler Kuehl from Bullis School in Montgomery County are also trying to lend a hand. They've designed their own N-95 face mask.

"Our lacrosse coach told us our season was suspended which was hard to hear," Till told Montgomery County Media. "So I tried to focus myself and put my mind on something else which ended up being these N-95 masks."

Hospitals Thankful For The PPE

Before these shields and masks can be used by hospital staff, they face rigorous testing and approval by hospitals.

Kasanagottu with Johns Hopkins Bayview says he's seen a lot of creative solutions for personal protective equipment and is thankful for the support.

"I've had the fortune of using a company made face shield as well as a community made face shield as well. And I will say they both work just as well," Kouski says. "They're both really great barriers for protection."

Hospitals in the region and around the globe are overwhelmed by the number of coronavirus cases. On Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a few weeks the D.C. region will look like New York and the Tri-state area in terms of the severity of the virus.

"There's a sense of impending doom that something bad is going to happen tomorrow or the day after. Each day seems to be getting a little bit worse or a little bit more overwhelmed," Koushik says. "Yeah, anxiety is a good way of putting it."

That's why face shields are vital: they create a physical barrier between the droplets a patient produces when they cough or sneeze and the face and respirator itself. The shields also protect the N-95 face masks doctors and nurses wear over their nose and mouth. Unlike shields that can be cleaned with sanitary wipes, Koushik says, the masks can be easily soiled.

Questions or comments about the story?

WAMU 88.5 values your feedback.

From NPR station

WAMU 88.5