Being prepared with 3D printing
Christopher Norrick, assistant director of operations for USI’s Creative and Print Services, bought his first 3D printer five years ago. Since then he’s made board game pieces, an air filter cover—even a light saber. But right now, he’s printing something that could save lives: face shields for healthcare workers.
“They are relatively simple, and the failure of one is less critical, as it's a backup to other personal protective equipment (PPE), such as N95 masks,” says Norrick. “But they can really help prolong the life of those masks and add a barrier to potential eye entry of the virus.”
Norrick is one of many “makers” around the world using 3D printers, among other equipment, to advance a grassroots project known as ‟Plan C.” It’s a “backup plan to the backup plan when the real PPE supplies run out, and it's this or nothing,” he says.
“One of the themes of the Maker Movement and 3D printing in general is ‛distributed manufacturing.’ The goal is to move manufacturing away from the centralized model and disperse to thousands of mini-factories in an attempt to increase collaboration and reduce shipping costs—or make something right where the demand is quickly. This project was a very good ‛use case’ to test that.”
Following a concept created by a company in Sweden, Norrick makes two frames every 90 minutes. “I can load up the [open source] design from my computer, hit ‛print’ and the 3D printer is automated until a print finishes,” he says. “Then it's just a matter of running downstairs and putting on gloves to remove the frames from the printer and place them in a sealed bag.”
To complete the shields, he attaches a product once commonplace in classrooms—transparency sheets. The old school overhead projector accessory is long enough to cover the user’s face while still allowing enough room for a mask to be worn underneath.
Though he hasn’t distributed any of the face shields—yet—Norrick’s goal is to have 100 ready, just in case.
“I see this huge, slow tidal wave coming our way, and this is one thing I could do in advance to help out if that wave crashes on us. I hope it doesn't, but ‛Be Prepared,’ the Boy Scout motto, was imprinted on my young brain, and it never left.”