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Fighting The Shortage Of Protective Gear With 3D Printers

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Builders, designers, and engineers from across the region are joining in a worldwide movement to use 3D printers to meet the shortfall 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. Dr. 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 been filling the need for face shields and N-95 masks. The movement was started by Prusa Research, a Czech-based tech company that designs 3D printers.

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 https://youtu.be/pP7z3iw76GA" target="_blank">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, GE Healthcare, and Linus Tech Tips started printing the design.

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

“This feels like it’s the right thing to be doing right now,” says Todd Blatt, an artist with the Baltimore Node, a makerspace 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 Next Door 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.

“It’s a very slow way to make these,” Blatt replies. “So I just picked up 100 sheets of the same kind of plastic that this is…and I have a different design that uses the laser cutter.”

Blatt says he hopes to have 2,300 shields over the course of a week.

Grant hopes to send his face shields to Johns Hopkins Hospitals.

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 [PPE].

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

Like many hospitals around the region and the globe, hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of cases. On Monday, Governor Larry Hogan said in a few weeks the DC-region will look like New York and the TriState Área 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,” Kasanagottu says. “Yeah anxiety is a good way of putting it.”

That’s why face shields are vital to create a physical barrier between the droplets a patient produces when they cough or sneeze and your face and the respirator itself. The shields are also protecting the N-95 face masks doctors and nurses wear over their nose and mouth

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