Businesses, Schools, Individuals Work to Help Reduce Medical Supply Shortage
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on April 20, 2020 |
Businesses, schools and individuals are heeding with 3D-printed parts for COVID-19 medical persons.

While most schools and businesses have shut their doors to limit the spread of the coronavirus, many are still heeding the call to use their resources to aid front-line medical personnel. From couples at home to libraries, even a little help is going a long, as proven by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Nebraska Innovation Studio (NIS).

In late March, the United States Conference of Mayors sent out a survey to medical professionals regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages. The survey revealed shortage estimates of 28.5 million face masks, 24.4 million PPE items, 7.9 million tests, and 139,000 ventilators. Of survey respondents, 91.5 percent said there was not an adequate supply of face masks for their first responders.

While much of the equipment requires sophisticated, complex systems to create, when it comes to face masks, creating face shields for them has become a viable and needed solution. Many hospitals, including Bryan Health in Lincoln, Nebr., quickly began reaching out to local sources for assistance.

The Terry Research Lab and Nebraska Innovation Campus, which was designed to facilitate new and in-depth partnerships between the university and private sector businesses, heeded the call. The lab’s role, which required working more than 100 hours in six days, was to design and build an injection mold of a face shield.

Individuals and business have come together to 3D print face shield parts for medical personnel. (Image courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.)
Individuals and business have come together to 3D print face shield parts for medical personnel. (Image courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.)

“It was a large group effort and many, many hours to get the machine up and running producing parts, but we’re now able to do a part every 30 seconds,” said Ben Terry, associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering.

From there, NIS did its part by contacting local businesses to produce the clear plastic shields that attach to the injection-molded headpieces and individuals and businesses with 3D printers to print shield components. The effort resulted in an overwhelming response from more than 70 hobbyists and makers, which turned a call for help into results in just 10 days.

“Things are rolling at the studio with all of the labs and partners running with this project,” said Max Wheeler, shop instructional technician. “To date (April 14), we’ve delivered 8,720 face shields to 18 recipients—hospitals and labs—and we’ve even traded some to the workers on Innovation Campus making hand sanitizer. Our assembly lines are running well and assembling over 1,200 shields per day.”

A small team at NIS has been assembling the face shields and plans to continue doing so as long as they can get the needed raw materials. More than 70 individuals and local businesses, both small and large and from different sectors, have contributed materials or 3D-printed parts, including the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Firespring, Midlands Packaging, Virtual Incision and Capstone Technologies.

“We are grateful to deploy our resources in collaboration with UNL’s Nebraska Innovation Studio and several others in our community to address an urgent need for area hospitals and medical professionals,” said CapStone Cofounder Troy Power. “We quickly started using our Ultimaker S5 3D printer to print face shield frames. We also started using our Formlabs Form 2 3D printer to print surgical mask strap extenders.”


If you are interested in contributing to the effort, you can send an email to innovationstudio@unl.edu.


For the latest on other COVID-19 efforts, check out Manufacturers Respond to the Global Shortage of Ventilators and New 3D Printed Nasal Swab Provides Better Accuracy than Current COVID-19 Testing Standard in Initial Study.


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