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UW Student Innovation Center Team’s COVID-19 Operations Go Statewide

April 10, 2020
person in a mask working with equipment
Ben Monger, an energy systems engineering student from Cheyenne, inspects one of the 3D printers that is producing surgical facemasks and protective face shields for medical facilities around Wyoming. (UW Photo)

It was just a matter of time before the University of Wyoming Student Innovation Center’s first round of creating 3D surgical masks would prove successful and medical facilities throughout Wyoming would request the much-needed equipment in the fight against coronavirus COVID-19.

Two weeks ago, Tyler Kerr -- the UW makerspace coordinator in the Student Innovation Center (SIC), located in the new Engineering Education and Research Building -- and his team produced the first round of 100 surgical facemasks and 100 protective face shields for the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

To this point, 20 Wyoming medical facilities and departments have requested 983 pieces of safety equipment -- 438 surgical masks and 545 face shields.

“We've gotten ourselves into a 3D printing groove, so no more late nights or early morning hours,” Kerr says.

The team members typically print only when they are in the SIC makerspace, which is around 10 hours each day. Eight other UW departments and other schools, such as Laramie County Community College, have temporarily loaned the team an additional 16 3D printers to help print at a much greater capacity.

“My student staff and I pop in on weekends or later at night to ensure printers don't have much down time, but we are not stopping by in the wee hours of the morning anymore,” Kerr adds. “All in all, about eight of us are keeping the printers running, and these poor printers have not had a break. We have been printing on almost all 30 machines consistently since we first started that 48-hour push on March 27. The only time a printer is idle is if it is getting a much-needed tune-up.”

Besides the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, other Wyoming facilities or departments that have received or will receive the 3D printed materials from different makerspaces throughout the state, including the SIC, are:

-- Casper: Central Wyoming Counseling Center and Wyoming Medical Center.

-- Cheyenne: Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

-- Dubois: Dubois Medical Clinic, Mountain Sage Clinic and Warm Valley Lodge.

-- Jackson: Women's Health and Family Care.

-- Lander: Lander Medical Clinic.

-- Laramie: Albany Community Health Clinic, Family Physicians of Laramie, Ivinson Memorial Hospital, Laramie Fire Department, Laramie Physicians for Women and Children, Stone Meadow Health and Wellness, and UW Police Department.

-- Newcastle: Weston County Health Services.

-- Riverton: SageWest Health Care.

Last month, Kerr and his team were only producing a few prototypes of a number of different facemasks and face shield designs for health professionals to view for approval. Since then, Kerr says most of the larger facilities have asked for one of three available face shield designs, while smaller medical centers or practices are requesting surgical masks. The SIC has produced 355 total pieces of equipment -- many of those have been surgical facemasks or custom parts.

“We also have been taking some time to experiment with new materials, such as soft rubber TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) face masks for the UW Police Department,” he says. “TPU masks are a bit friendlier for long-term use, since they are not made of hard plastic.”

The UW team continues to not charge any of the medical facilities in the state for material or use of the machines.

“We never intended to charge members of the community for personal protective equipment. Right now, we're paying for all the materials out of the makerspace's budget,” Kerr says.

The SIC’s makerspace 3D printing facility is part of the statewide Wyoming Technology Coronavirus Coalition, which coordinates high-impact technological efforts to assist the state in confronting the ongoing pandemic. Kerr says, as of late this week, 22 makerspaces or makers across Wyoming are printing medical supplies for the medical centers that have requested assistance.

“I think all recognition should go toward the UW SIC student staff for their selflessness and willingness to pitch in and help, as well as the makers across the state and across the world who are making a difference during this crisis,” Kerr says. “The SIC is really just one makerspace among thousands that have rallied to help.”

He adds that the SIC will print surgical facemasks and protective shields for all community groups and medical centers that ask for assistance until the crisis is over. People can view the projects the WTCC, as a whole, is working on by visiting https://wtcc.tech/.

“Perhaps most exciting to me is the incredible response of makerspaces worldwide that have helped to cement 3D printing’s place as an indispensable tool in industry and rapid prototyping. Once the dust settles and COVID-19 is behind us, no longer will people think of 3D printing as simply a means to create fun toys, trinkets or one-off custom parts without much practical purpose,” Kerr says. “3D printing has proven to be an essential part of the short-term pandemic response, with creative groups designing and getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration to produce everything from surgical masks and face shields to complex parts like respirator valves and even testing swabs. The future of 3D printing feels pretty limitless.”

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