Got a 3D printer?
Virginia Tech is asking community members who own or have access to the machines to help the university manufacture face shields for medical staff and first responders.
It’s one part of a larger Tech effort to produce personal protective equipment, or PPE, to help stave off the spread of COVID-19.
More than 75 researchers, students and university staff came together in recent weeks to embark on 10 projects that revolve around PPE and other medical equipment. Groups are creating face shields, masks and adapters that hospitals can use to convert machines often used to treat sleep apnea into makeshift ventilators.
On Thursday, Tech put a call out for anyone with access to 3D printers to print headpieces for the shields, which will be sent to hospitals in the Roanoke and New River Valleys, as well as to local firefighters and law enforcement officers.
Alex Leonessa, a mechanical engineering professor, and William “Liam” Chapin, a computer science major, lead the team producing the 3D-printed headpieces. Team members will then use a laser to cut a polyester sheet, which attaches to the headpiece.
Leonessa’s team made about 700 face shields last week, according to a Tech spokesman. But he has requests for more than 5,000 additional shields.
With about 12 printers at the team’s disposal, it will take roughly seven weeks to fulfil those requests. Leonessa hopes to cut that time line in half with the help of more printers.
So far, the team has distributed hundreds of face shields, including to LewisGale Hospital in Montgomery County and Carilion New River Valley Medical Center.
“It’s comfortable, it’s in use, and people want more,” Chapin said last month over a Zoom call for members of the media. In the background of his Blacksburg apartment, the sound of six 3D printers going full-force could be heard.
“It’s nice to have the entire face covered,” David Linkous, the New River Valley Health District’s local emergency health coordinator, said in a Tech news release. Linkous gave feedback on several face shield prototypes the team created. “You try not to, but you don’t want to touch your face. We are so appreciative of this donation.”
The 3D-printed headpieces are sanitized before they’re delivered, along with the polyester sheets, to area hospitals and first responders.
“We’ve done our best to coordinate everybody we can on campus, and we have room for more,” Chris Williams, a mechanical engineering professor who oversees coordination of the 10 projects, said in the media Zoom call last month.
He noted there remains room for local industries and individuals to get involved. In terms of sheer numbers, he said, the university has seen a lot of requests for the face shields, including from police and EMS departments that do not traditionally hold such materials in stock.
“We’re all learning a lot from one another, and we’re going to share that learning as fast as we can,” Williams said.
One “silver lining of the pandemic,” he said, is that “as a very large community, we can come together and advance our knowledge, for the good of humanity.”