Maker Community Comes Together to 3D Print Personal Protective Equipment

Face shield frames printed using the Taz5 3D printer

When the coronavirus pandemic and state-wide stay-at-home orders in mid-March forced the Polsky Fabrication Lab to temporarily close its doors to the public, Polsky assistant director, Elizabeth Koprucki, was in search of new ways to make an impact. She joined a local maker movement and began creating personal protective equipment (PPE) components to support frontline healthcare workers.

Koprucki, who is active in the maker community, was monitoring a number of different community efforts. She was motivated to participate when she realized that she could do something to help: “When I saw that there was an item that could be 3D printed successfully and that hospitals and first responders specifically wanted it, I knew I wanted to get involved,” she said.

A typical day for Koprucki now involves her and her partner, Ryan Pierce, running Polsky’s Taz5 3D printer for around 14 hours a day while sheltering in place at their home. They can successfully create three face shield frames every two hours. Together, they are working with other groups and institutions, including the Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science and Industry, and local hackerspace Pumping Station: One.

Manufacturing these face shields is part of a larger community effort organized by Jackie Moore, founder of the Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire and manager at Chicago Knights Robotics. Moore and her volunteers work to assemble the shields by adding elastic and clear plastic report covers to the 3D printed frames. The shields are then sanitized at the various locations where they are used.

Koprucki, who leads classes and workshops at the Polsky Fab Lab, also helped connect a doctor from the UChicago Medical Center who was requesting hands-free door openers to the UChicago Technical COVID-19 response group. In that instance, staff from another campus makerspace were able to 3D print the prototypes, and the door openers were later manufactured in aluminum, she said.

To join the movement, Koprucki advises: “Pick something and start,” noting that “in a crisis like this, nothing is optimal. While the best PPE is N95 masks, face shields are still helpful and are needed by facilities that don’t have N95s.”

Koprucki also suggested plugging into various networks to best use old resources in new ways. “Our desktop 3D printer became a valuable asset when we connected with people who were volunteering to assemble and distribute face shields,” she said – noting the importance of relationships: “Collaboration is necessary to solve large problems.”

If you have access to a 3D printer, contact the Idea Realization Lab or Jackie Moore to get involved in a variety of Chicago community maker efforts.

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