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Published May 11, 2020
For nearly two months straight, the University of Wyoming’s 3D makerspace in the Student Innovation Center (SIC) has been producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for the state’s medical facilities and first responders.
The SIC, located in the new UW Engineering Education and Research Building (EERB), has produced over 3,700 pieces of equipment -- mainly protective masks and face shields that have gone to nearly 40 medical facilities in Wyoming, including the Wind River Indian Reservation, and to law enforcement agencies and fire department personnel for free. Wyoming’s Office of Homeland Security also has asked for the 3D printed PPE.
“We have not stopped printing since March 27, when we did our first overnight push to get out masks for Cheyenne Regional Medical Center,” says Tyler Kerr, the SIC makerspace coordinator. “That means most of our 3D printers have been running all day and night for more than 40 days now. We have produced roughly 90 pieces of PPE a day. If ever there was an endorsement for excellent workhorse 3D printers, this would be it.”
As part of the statewide Wyoming Technology Coronavirus Coalition (WTCC), the SIC makerspace staff begins daily 3D printing around 8 a.m., and the first batch of PPE is typically finished about 12 hours later. Another of Kerr’s team comes in during evening hours to remove the prints and kick off a slightly longer 3D printing run that ends before sunrise.
In all, makerspace personnel spread across Wyoming who are part of the WTCC have produced about 5,500 pieces of safety equipment, including 3D printed masks, face shields, face shield visors and custom-printed parts. To view the daily count, where equipment is being shipped and those contributing to the 3D efforts, click the database here.
“We have shipped masks, face shields and custom-made 3D printed or laser-cut parts to all corners of Wyoming,” Kerr says. “Each of the facilities that have requested our services has received PPE, which means we’ve catered not only to medical facilities now, but also emergency responders, such as fire and police departments, as well as emergency management centers.”
He adds that some of the smaller Wyoming facilities -- such as nursing homes -- do not readily have access to PPE from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or federal stockpiles, and UW’s SIC makerspace is assisting.
The SIC team has now added the dental community as part of the medical group seeking PPE. Kerr says Dr. Ilene Choal, of Laramie River Dental, started the conversation for communicating the project effectively to the greater Wyoming Dental Association (WyDA).
“We have worked through different ideas and prototypes until the WyDA settled on a final design,” Kerr says.
The UW makerspace team is producing a face shield specifically for loupes worn by dentists outside the protective equipment. Loupes are small magnification devices that dentists wear over their safety glasses, often with a loupe light in the center that makes the entire device look like a miniature pair of binoculars.
“Because the loupes extend out from the eyewear and face by about two inches, dentists need a special-sized face shield,” Kerr says.
He says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a special set of stringent rules required for dentists to continue practicing to address the fact that dental procedures typically produce significant amounts of aerosols. The most notable rule is that dentists providing emergency care must wear face shields at all times.
“Since many dental clinics now need face shields to continue operating, and because the government does not categorize dental care clinics at the same level of critical need as hospitals and emergency care centers, the PPE that dentists need for emergency procedures can be difficult to acquire,” Kerr says. “This is where we come in. We know that 3D printed or laser-cut PPE isn’t a permanent solution, but we see ourselves as a simple stop-gap measure until the PPE supply chains can catch up and cater to dental groups.”
The UW 3D team modified a version of a popular face shield approved by the National Institutes of Health for clinical use in order to allow it to fit the larger profile of face-wearing loupes. The team is near its goal of 3D printing 1,308 face shields for WyDA members across the state after a two-week production sprint.
“To the best of our knowledge, we are the sole source for 3D printed PPE for the Wyoming Dental Association,” Kerr says.
Kerr says the SIC makerspace’s success in helping Wyoming facilities and groups during the COVID-19 pandemic is due, in large part, to his UW student-led team.
“The student staff are pretty incredible,” Kerr says. “Ask me what I was doing at their age, and it certainly was not 3D printing thousands of critical personal protective equipment for front-line responders. And, on top of taking a full course load, no less.”
The student team members and their hometowns and majors are:
-- Carlsbad, Calif.: Zack Woith, mechanical engineering.
-- Cheyenne: Ben Monger, energy systems engineering.
-- Colorado Springs, Colo.: Zach Hunter, mechanical engineering.
-- Green River: Victoria Evans, pre-pharmacy.
-- Guadalajara, Mexico: Ana Flores, physics.
-- Riverton: Shannon Linch, chemical engineering.
-- Torrington: Brayton Tolman, mechanical engineering.