By Jensen, Randy on May 4, 2020.
Over the past few weeks, a number of University of Lethbridge research groups have been working on designing and then 3D printing facemasks and shields to aid in the effort to stem the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
What originally began as an independent work to help the community has turned into an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort.
“Right after I finished my last lecture and had it uploaded, I thought, ‘my God, I have 3D printers sitting in my lab,'” says Craig Coburn, professor in the Department of Geography and Environment.
Known around the U of L as a tinkerer and a builder, Coburn has been 3D printing for years, having created his own suite of printers. He worked through the U of L’s Emergency Operations Centre to come back to campus and reclaim his printers and materials, relocating them to his home.
Coburn then searched for face-shield prototypes online, developed a design and started creating usable models. His first attempts took a full 36 hours for four shield housings, and has since improved that time down to 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Majid Mohajerani and Hardeep Ryait from the Department of Neuroscience were working on their own designs.
“I had been talking with Dr. John Kennedy, one of our adjunct professors in neuroscience and a doctor at the Campbell Clinic, and he asked me whether we could provide some help making facemasks and shields the nurses could wear while working with people coming into the clinic,” says Mohajerani.
He went to Ryait and they started working on designs for both shields and the components of the N95 mask.
“We’ve seen 3D printing has proven extremely helpful as a rapid design and manufacturing tool,” says Ryait. “We began playing with available designs and checking out ways to adopt those designs for faster production with the materials we had available. We made at least 10 design iterations over the course of 23 days.”
Before long, the AGILITY innovation zone was brought into the mix and with support from Tony Montina, director of Science Operations, their printers were made available. As well, Ryait’s face-shield design is now being adopted by Coburn to allow his printers to work more efficiently. Coburn sought feedback from provincial and national health authorities on how to obtain approvals for his work but encountered dead ends. He then worked out of his own supply chain.
“I contacted a former student who is a member of the Blood Tribe and he indicated a need for them in his community,” says Coburn. “They have agreed to accept them. They have some really dire conditions with lots of people in close quarters and where social distancing is hard. The social network out there will do the distribution for us. I think it’s important for those of us making these things to do the best we can to try to get them in the hands of people who will use them.”
Mohajerani’s group has distributed 50 face shields to frontline staff already, while Coburn sent his first shipment of shields to the Blood Reserve last weekend. Coburn says his colleagues can help by supplying transparency film, which likely is stored away in various offices throughout the university. He adds that with a sleeker design, his production can increase, and they will be able to contribute to the community effort with safe, reliable products.
“Once they are rolling off the printer, we’ll follow lab procedures for sterilizations, as well as bagging and distributing.”
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