Bay Area schools repurpose their 3D printers to make PPE for medical workers

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Bay Area schools repurpose their 3D printers to make PPE for medical workers
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Bay Area schools respond to the shortage of personal protective equipment by using their 3D printers to make face shields for front line workers.

CUPERTINO, Calif. (KGO) -- When De Anza College in Cupertino closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one room stayed open.

"Never has our facility been running the way that we have," said Corey Dunsky, who watches over a table full of 3D printers in constant motion.

Ever since it became clear that there was a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment, Dunsky and the staff at the school's Department of Design and Manufacturing Technologies have been running the school's 3D printers constantly to make face shields for medical workers.

"For weeks we have been running the printers 20 hours every day, seven days a week," said Dunsky, who stands next to a large fan which cools the room from the heat generated by the printers.

RELATED: South Bay volunteers making 3D-printed COVID-19 face shields for healthcare workers

Dunsky and his co-workers are part of a community of 3D printer enthusiasts who have answered a call to make PPE.

It is a slow process. It takes between six to eight hours to make 20 headbands for the face shields, but they have still managed to print out 6,000 parts, including an adapter needed to upgrade medical body suits stockpiled by hospitals in 2014 because of the Ebola outbreak.

"Even though the resources invested in our facility here are primarily for education, they can be pressed into service during an emergency for the community very, very quickly," said Dunsky.

The PPE the school makes is distributed to medical centers by Maker Nexus, a non-profit in Sunnyvale, that advocates for the maker community in the Bay Area.

"To date, we've produced about 250,000 face shield kits in total," said Eric Hess, general manager at Maker Nexus. "Of those, 150,000 included 3D printed parts from local schools and individuals."

They aren't the only ones helping out. Students at Oakland's Madison Park Academy gather twice a week to package face shields printed out by their teacher, Tawana Guillaume.

"I have been cleaning shields, punching holes, packaging," said incoming 12th grader Kelis Lacy. She and classmate Mario Medina make holes in transparent plastic shields that will snap into the headbands produced by the 3D printer.

Guillaume found out about the need for personal protective equipment from 3D Friends of the Bay Area, an adhoc group of makers.

"We found each other through a Google sheet of people who had printers that were available," said Guillaume, who has three 3D printers at home. She is able to print out two headbands for the face shields every two hours..

The face shields go to hospitals, nursing homes and community organizations.

"It feels amazing. Those masks are for someone's wellness, for their protection," said Medina.

So far, the students have assembled about 750 face shields. 150 of them are being reserved for her school.

San Francisco Unified School District also let students take home 3D printers at its schools to make personal protective equipment.

Students like Luis Palacios, an 8th grader at Aptos Middle School, have been printing parts for face shields and ear savers at home. 400 of them have already been donated to community groups.

Palacios is using his own machine that his parents bought him a few months ago. He has made dozens of ear savers, which are bands that connect to the straps on face masks to keep them from pulling on the wearer's ears.

He is also making a tool that people can use to avoid touching door handles.

"They let you open doors, press credit card keys and elevator buttons. It makes me happy that I can be helping people," said Palacios.

Maker Nexus still have about 25,000 face shields that can donate to hospitals or other organizations that need them. More information is available on their website.