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ITEEA Teacher Excellence Award Winner 3D Prints Masks and Face Shields for Hospitals

April 07, 2020

SALAMANCA, NY– Students and faculty from the Salamanca City School District are pooling their resources to create 3D-printed parts for reusable face masks to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In New York State, the current epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, doctors, nurses and first responders have reported dire shortages of protective gear.  

“It is well known that N95, surgical, and other medical masks are in extremely short supply,”  noted the County Health Department in a press release on Tuesday, “the Office of Emergency Services is taking donations of handmade masks that we can distribute to healthcare workers and community members in need.” 

Amid reports of the shortages, a platoon of 3D printer-users have been deployed in the Salamanca community to manufacture protective gear from home offices and the recently opened STEAM Wing for health workers.

Retired Dell computer engineer, David Springer, who assists with evening operations of the temporarily vacant Warrior STEAM Wing, said “Each mask costs just over $2 to print with plastic. We have the equipment the knowledge and the technology. I thought, we can do this."

Springer immediately reached out to Aaron Straus, Salamanca HS Steam Coordinator, who put in a request to access the STEAM lab. 

“We asked the district administration  to let a small strike team assemble into the school to run the 3D printers — which is closed through at least April 15, per Gov. Cuomo’s order,” said Straus. “We got the OK on Monday, and by Tuesday, our team was printing our first face mask.” 

The school is partnering with local agencies to produce and coordinate the distribution of facemasks, each with a requisite activity, which will be donated to health care facilities. The first is 3D printed, N95 facemasks with disposable breathing filters.

“The design is pretty straightforward,” commented Salamanca Science teacher, Cheryl Johnson, who converted a spare 10-by 12-foot area of her home into a remote makerspace.

“Each N95 mask is made of three parts. The largest piece, the face shield, takes about two hours to print; two smaller pieces take about 25 minutes each.” 

Johnson and her son Cole a Salamanca HS junior, downloaded an open-source file to 3D print an N95 mask from the company, Copper 3D.  They ran the file through a program that determined the correct pattern for the school's 3D printer.

“The 3D N95 face masks have an area where particle filters can be replaced,” commented Salamanca student, Cole Johnson.  “After sanitization, this allows the masks to be reusable.”

Meanwhile, Boundless Connections, a technology resource and training company headquartered in downtown Olean, put out a pro bono RFP to school districts with 3D printer capability to produce additional facemasks for area hospitals and health centers.

 Salamanca was excited to help the relief effort. “Tell us what we can do,” responded Salamanca Assistant Superintendent, Mark Beehler, “we are all in.” 

The company worked with infectious disease experts of the Cattaraugus County COVID response task force to design the mask to specifically protect the whole face for medical professionals.  Many new versions do not meet the rigorous Food and Drug Administration's N95 designation: "when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 microns) test particles”

“Unlike N95, which primarily covers the nasal and mouth cavities, our proprietary BC19 face shield sits two inches from the face of the user,” commented Boundless Connections Director, Christina Lopez, “it can work in tandem with other devices and cover the user’s entire face.”

Straus said initial trials took well over three hours to print the sole headband for Boundless Connections, so he and Springer purposefully reached out to district students to remotely assist with fine-tuning the printer setting.  “In the case of design solutions, our Salamanca STEAM students are our first responders.”

“The face masks must meet a rigorous vetting process for quality control,” said Salamanca Junior, Connor Klute. “It’s good to help people and know you are making a difference,” added eighth grader, Mitchel Schnaufer. 

School officials agree both designs extend the life cycle of a mask that otherwise is a one-time-use item, addressing the industry shortage of masks.

“Five years ago, when we first began our STEAM initiative, we couldn’t have imagined our district would be in a position to use this technology to save lives,” commented District Superintendent Robert Breidenstein. “Now we are printing 3D face masks for our front-line healthcare providers and first responders.”

Although Salamanca students won't be able to directly use the 3D printer lab during this period of distance learning, teachers are excited to talk about how the district is using the 3D printing technology for good — and how students can use the engineering skills they learn in the real world.   

Straus said that both the primary and secondary STEAM teachers are modifying learning plans already in place into technical lessons they can deliver digitally.  "We're in the middle of a pandemic that's of a scope that we don't understand and most of us have no direct control over," said Straus, "but in it, is an opportunity to teach students about the role of engineering as a benefit to society and likewise find innovative ways to still deliver quality STEAM instruction remotely, over the web.  We will continue to rework our virtual management system so that students can send their STL design files directly to our lab or to the instructor’s home for 3D printing.”

 

People interested in printing their N95 masks can find the 3D files at https://copper3d.com/hackthepandemic/

To learn more about the Salamanca City Central School District visit www.SalamancaNY.org. You can also find them on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SalamancaWarriors