IU using 3D printers to make face shields and other medical equipment

At Indiana University campuses across the state, 3D printers have been churning out face shields and other protective equipment to support the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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IUPUI mechanical engineering professor Andres Tovar has taken the lead on a project to create ventilator parts for health professionals. Photo courtesy of School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI

Professors with the School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI were contacted by physicians from the IU School of Medicine recently, asking for help with ventilators and personal protective equipment.

Mechanical engineering technology professor Paul Yearling had helped set up a 3D printing facility at IU Health over the past few years for other medical uses, and now that work is paying even more dividends as PPE are able to be produced within that facility.

Complete emergency ventilators, which local physicians anticipated needing, are a more intricate build. Ventilators require complex controls in various modes, giving careful consideration to COVID-19 patients' delicate lung condition and the risks of infecting medical personnel with exhaled air. Mechanical engineering professor Andres Tovar has taken the lead on that project, including fellow School of Engineering and Technology faculty and doctoral students as well as an international group of collaborators from multiple universities and companies in an accelerated race to create a final design that can be fabricated and tested.

Meanwhile, on the Bloomington campus, the Make, Innovate, Learn Lab, or MILL, in the School of Education has taken on a new role: creating face shields.

Adam Maltese, associate professor and director of the MILL, told the School of Education he wanted help after hearing from friends in the medical field who didn't have enough protective gear. He's working with Mark Smith from IU Opera in the IU Jacobs School of Music and Adam Ward and Todd Royer from the Paul H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs to create face shields.

"I'm just trying to find a way to help and feel less powerless against this virus," Maltese said.

In addition to the face shields, Ward is 3D printing "combs" that connect the loops of a face mask behind a person's head. The simple device makes the masks more comfortable to wear for multiple hours a day.

The group has made about 200 face shields, which have been donated locally. Several hundred of the face mask "combs" have been produced, with some being donated locally, and some sent to New York City on behalf of a colleague at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering whose sister is a medical professional there.

From top, Adam Ward from the Paul H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs is one of myriad faculty members working to create face shields for health care workers; associate professor and MILL director Adam Maltese, at left, and Mark Smith from IU Opera are among many faculty creating PPE for health care workers; and IUPUC assistant professor of chemistry J.D. Mendez is running three 3D printers 24 hours a day in his garage, creating protective face shields for Columbus Regional Hospital. Photos courtesy of O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, IU School of Education and IUPUC

IUPUC assistant professor of chemistry J.D. Mendez is running three 3D printers 24 hours a day in his garage, creating protective face shields for Columbus Regional Hospital.

He'd purchased one of the printers five years ago, intending to create interactive educational models of atoms and molecules for use in his classroom. Then, as the virus began to hit hard at home, he heard about other organizations using 3D printing equipment to make things like masks and ventilators. And he knew he could help.

"J.D. proves that a university's value isn't just in the number of graduates it produces, but rather in the way it becomes an integral part of the community it serves," IUPUC Vice Chancellor and Dean Reinhold Hill said.

IU faculty and staff are also involved in a larger movement across the state, helping health care professionals protect themselves from the deadly coronavirus.

Andy Webb, 3D Lab coordinator on the IU Bloomington campus, and Christian McKay, director of the Luddy School's 3D Fabrication and Design Inquiry Labs, are part of a statewide group that's pooling resources to create and test 3D prototypes for N95 masks and face shields.

The group, which include staff from IU Bloomington, IUPUI and IU Kokomo, use the instant-messaging platform Slack to share ideas and designs, and to test prototypes and report on results.

To help patients, the group is also working on prototypes for a ventilator splitter that can double or quadruple the capacity of one ventilator.

I'm just trying to find a way to help and feel less powerless against this virus.

Associate professor Adam Maltese

On the Bloomington campus, the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences has put its 3D printers to work helping to make face shields for local medical professionals.

Charles Maitha, an electronics engineer in the department, did not miss an opportunity to help solve the PPE shortage when he heard from volunteers at Bloomington Makers, which was formed to address the local medical workers' need for the equipment.

They needed 3D printers to produce frames for face shields, so Maitha sought Psychological and Brain Sciences chair Bill Hetrick’s approval. He said the department "has been more than generous in letting us use the 3D printers, as well as donating the raw material."

Maitha also enlisted a team among the department's technical support staff, including Allen Cody, Cameron Walker, Jesse Goode and Rick Moore. Together they would produce the frames, which were passed on to Bloomington Makers for assembly into complete face shields.

As of last week, the Bloomington Makers, with the help of Maitha and his team, have donated 60 face shields.

"We are experimenting with faster methods of producing the needed parts and are looking for further ways to help the community," Maitha said. "Together we will prevail."