3D-printing COVID-19 face shields at the FSU Libraries

Due to the shortage of readily-accessible personal protective equipment for first-responders and healthcare providers around the world, many involved in maker communities have responded by crowd-sourcing ways of rapidly manufacturing makeshift equipment to fill in the gaps while supply chains can respond. This is happening at the local level as well — Tallahassee’s local makerspace, MakingAwesome, and several departments at FSU began exploring ways of leveraging various rapid-manufacturing technology available on campus (such as 3D printers, desktop laser-cutters, and more) to answer this call. By the end of March, a partnership between the FSU Innovation Hub, FSU College of Medicine, High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Master Craftsman Studio, University Libraries, and MakingAwesome was formed, and The iHub began coordinating the donation materials such as sewn face masks and 3D-printed face shields at the beginning of April. This partnership was spearheaded by FSU College of Medicine faculty Dr. Emily Pritchard and iHub director Ken Baldauf.

After receiving library leadership’s blessing to re-enter the library, I set about repairing the 3D printers formerly housed at Dirac and used for our public-facing 3D print service (which had recently been retired), to add to the 3D printer housed in the Office of Digital Research and Scholarship (DRS). DRS provides 3D printing services to researchers interested in exploring the teaching and scholarly possibilities of the technology. Once I was able to set up the printers and dial in the adjusted settings to deal with the relatively high-speed prints we needed, I began printing batches of a National Institutes of Health-approved face shield in mid-April. These shields are made of 3D-printed headband units, elastic straps (donated by various community partners), and a laser-cut clear face shield.

During the early phases of dialing in settings, two different headband models were being explored. The translucent model on the right is the NIH-approved model.

The headband was designed to be quick to print and economical on material, so that as many as possible can be produced through the distributed networks of 3D-printer owners throughout the world. This design spread quickly throughout the 3D printing community, and has been a greatly needed answer to such an unprecedented problem. Design credit goes to the Design that Matters team, and volunteers Elizabeth Johansen from Spark Health Design, David Packman from Microsoft and Eric Moyer from Boeing. Project details and a full list of credits for the design of the headband are available here: https://www.designthatmatters.org/covid-19

The particular version FSU is using, was approved by the NIH particularly because it allowed for coverage of the top of the face, and can use a clear plastic shield that should in theory be quick to replace. There are three tabs on the front lip of the headband that will be used to attach this shield, and in a pinch, the shield can be made from any clear plastic (even old overhead projector transparencies or empty laminate pouches) with a standard US letter-sized 3-hole punch pattern. I was able to fit three headbands per print-bed on the DRS printers, and if my timing was good, I could produce about 12 usable headbands per day, with a batch coming off the printers about every 12 hours (weekends included!).  For durability, I’m using a tough plastic filament known as “PETG” (polyethylene terephthalate glycol) which should be able to withstand the high temperature sanitization process used in hospitals, with the intent that these bands can be reused as much as possible. However, we didn’t have much of this PETG filament available, and it is difficult to order more in a timely manner through standard university procurement channels, so I also tried to best utilize the materials we already had on-hand and began producing masks where possible with materials like PLA (poly-lactic Acid, which has lower temperature resilience and isn’t as suitable for sanitization purposes) and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene – the normal plastic you’d find in most injection-molded parts – which has great temperature resilience and durability, but is much more difficult to print, and takes longer using the setup we have in DRS).

Nearing the end of our PETG filament supply, I began printing headbands one-at-a-time to stretch resources as far as possible.

But the headband is only one portion of the face shield, and honestly somewhat useless without the clear plastic shielding that actually does the brunt of protecting healthcare workers from droplets they might come into contact with. In contribution to FSU’s efforts, these clear shields are being laser cut by the FSU Master Craftsman Studio on their large-format industrial laser cutters from plastic donated by Coca Cola in Orlando. The Master Craftsman Studio worked hard to coordinate this donation and managed to get the large rolls of plastic shipped up to Tallahassee so that they could begin producing parts for collection at the iHub. As stated, this plastic arrived in large rolls and it was a challenge getting the plastic to lie flat enough to cut on MCS’s laser cutter. Finally John Raulerson, Master Craftsman Program Director, had the idea to contact the FSU Mag Lab to see if using magnets to hold the material in place would make this process easier, and that turned out to be just the ticket. Once cut, the plastic is manually cleaned and sent to the iHub to be attached to the headbands being produced all over campus. The FSU Master Craftsman Studio is currently producing around 200 shields per day, and has made over 1,400 so far.

At the iHub, the clear shields, donated headbands, and elastic banding are assembled to make the final product. The assembly team at the iHub has been working around the clock for weeks making these emergency PPE, and the finished products will be distributed to healthcare providers around the county such as Tallahassee Memorial Health Center, Capital Regional Health Center, and various smaller primary care providers and nursing homes. A deeper look into their work developing the donation partnerships, as well as information for those that can assist with donations (or request PPE) can be found at the FSU Coronavirus: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) response page

This black ABS filament is tricky to work with, and wound up with the failed print seen on the right.

Accounting for some breakage, failed prints, and after cleaning up the rough prints, I’ve managed to deliver 91 ready-to-assemble units to the iHub for assembly and distribution. At this point we’ve finally run out of first-choice PETG filament, and have used up almost all of the alternative filaments DRS has. This is just shy of the originally proposed 100 units I hoped to make, but the iHub is hoping to reach their goal of 2,000 completed shields in the next week or two. I’m glad to have contributed what I could to the effort!

The results of a full week of printing – 52 headbands ready for delivery to the iHub

If anyone is interested in helping contribute to FSU’s community efforts in their own way, directions for 3D printing face shields and sewing masks can be found at https://news.fsu.edu/coronavirus/ppe/.

Leave a Reply