As COVID-19 continues to spread in Colorado, state health workers on the front lines of the pandemic are in desperate need of personal protective equipment, including medical-grade masks, gloves and medical gowns .
In a March 28 letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Governor Jared Polis urged the federal government to send more PPE to Colorado as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the state continues to rise.
“We are facing a crisis-level shortage of these critical supplies to protect our healthcare workers and first responders,” Polis wrote to Pence, who is in charge of the US coronavirus task force.
In the face of ongoing supply shortages, maker communities, including experts from Metropolitan State University in Denver, are stepping up efforts to manufacture 3D-printed PPE for Colorado healthcare workers.
In the university’s industrial design department, 3D printing experts are helping produce face shields, said Ted Shin, professor and head of the department.
“I’m so happy to be able to use our insight to help people. I felt so bad for several weeks, then one night I thought, ‘Fuck you, I’m going to change that,'” Shin said. “It would be a shame if we couldn’t use it, and I would feel guilty if I ignored it.”
Print for a COVID-19 future
As the MSU Denver community comes together to produce personal protective equipment for local healthcare workers, its students are designing products for the future. A state model suggests Colorado won’t have its peak number of COVID-19 cases until September, while the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board warned of rising pandemics in the future in its first report annual last September.
The 22 industrial design students in Professor John Wanberg’s computer-aided modeling class are designing PPE for their final class project, and Wanberg intentionally left the assignment open.
“They can design anything that helps lessen the contact a person would have with the outside environment, like something that might help them interface with a card reader at the store or open doorknobs. There are a variety of different solutions they can offer,” Wanberg said.
If any of the student designs show practical promise, Wanberg says the industrial design department could 3D print them for public use or offer the designs for download online. Anything intended for medical use would require certification by federal agencies, but non-medical solutions could be made available immediately.
“We might as well give students the opportunity to do something in real time that can help solve some of these problems, using the tools we teach them at the same time. says Wenberg.
Shin, Professor John Wanberg, and lab coordinators Will Kellogg and Terry Dreher alternate shifts at a departmental lab to minimize contact while maximizing output from the dozen 3D printers that have been in operation since late March.
Even though MSU Denver hasn’t held on-campus classes since March 13, Shin sought access to the lab and got the go-ahead almost immediately from university management after informing them of his plans.
At the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Sciences, located in the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building, the call to produce PPE was personal from the start. Karen Cape, the wife of AMSI lab coordinator Jason Butler, is a nurse in the maternal-fetal care unit at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The new PPE protocols maximized hospital resources, and Butler took the issue to Robert Park, Ph.D., Lockheed Martin staffed director of AMSI.
Park said his team can manufacture about 90 fully assembled face shields per week with the institute’s state-of-the-art Stratasys Fortus 900 machine, using a design provided by Stratasys.
“Jason and I discussed this issue of growing demand, and I decided that we should dedicate all of AMSI’s resources to help alleviate the supply shortfall, first for Karen and her colleagues at Children’s Hospital Colorado to Denver and then beyond as our manufacturing capabilities and funding permit,” Park said. “It’s about the greater good and how the solution has community implications.”
At least 30 MSU Denver employees, students, and alumni are actively involved in 3D printing personal protective equipment on campus, at home, or in their businesses. Shin knows 10 former industrial design students who have become professional product designers and are now putting their skills to work making PPE.
Many are contributing through a statewide movement of makers called Make4Covid, an organization that brings together supplies and policy expertise to provide solutions to the medical equipment shortage. Make4Covid delivered over 3,200 pieces of equipment in its first two weeks thanks to over 1,250 volunteers. Shin’s team produced 120 face shield headbands in the first week before they received out-of-stock clear plastic for the shields. The team plans to send PPE to the Auraria Health Center on campus and to alumni and students with connections at the hospitals, as well as to Make4Covid for further distribution.
Adrienne Christy, a member of the art and technology support staff at MSU Denver, heard about Make4Covid on Facebook and was looking to access the art department’s 3D printers when her president and dean hooked her up with Shin’s team. . Christy and Sculpture Studio Director Walter Ware drove to campus last week, brought home some 3D printers, and got to work using the model face shield that industrial designers were already using.
“This project reinforces the mission of the Art Department – to provide a stimulating and supportive learning environment for those who aspire to professionally practice the visual arts, arts education, art history and design – while adding a typically unexpected outcome of saving lives,” Christy said. . “It can broaden our view of the impact of artists in the community and in the world.”