2 graduate students focused final project on 3D-printing face shields for first responders

When their final semester of graduate school moved to remote learning, two Indiana University students found a way to focus their final project on replenishing the shortage of personal protective equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent IU Bloomington graduates Megan Wade and Lauren Yadavia are helping their community by 3D-printing face shields.

"We have put so much time and dedication into this," Wade said.

Megan Wade stands by a table displaying dozens of her face shieldsView print quality image
Megan Wade holds the finished product that will be given to first responders and workers. Photo courtesy of Megan Wade

Wade and Yadavia both completed their undergraduate degrees at IU and just earned their graduate degrees from the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. As women in the male-dominated concentration of information systems, Wade said she and Yadavia hope to inspire other women, who are underrepresented in additive manufacturing and in technology fields in general.

Once COVID-19 hit, and all IU classes switched to remote learning, Wade and Yadavia had to find a final project to suit the new setup.

Wade said they started researching supply chains and looked at how they could create face shields for first responders. Their professor, Roger Morris, accepted the project proposal.

"We were so thrilled to have the support of our school and of him to kind of pivot in such an important time and to do something that's really going to make an impact locally," Wade said.

With Yadavia living at home in Ohio and Wade in Bloomington, Wade was responsible for handling the 3D printer while Yadavia handled the backend operations. The women stayed in close contact every day through Slack and Zoom to make sure everything was running smoothly.

Megan Wade and Lauren Yadavia discuss a graphic of their headband design during a Zoom meetingView print quality image
Megan Wade and Lauren Yadavia discuss their headband design over Zoom. Photo courtesy of Megan Wade

"If there's any issues, we just try and figure out the issues together and try to stay connected," Yadavia said.

The 3D printer they used is called a LulzBot Mini. Since the printer is smaller than usual, the plastic headband of the shield had to be designed in two pieces on CAD computer software and printed separately into two pieces, Wade said.

Each half of the headband took an hour and a half to print. Once both pieces were printed, they used an ABS glue made from 100 percent acetone mixed with ABS scrap plastic. The glue, which welds two ABS pieces together, is stronger than super glue because it melts the ABS, creating one strong piece fused together, Wade said.

"Each shield we have to then manually glue, "Wade said. "We have it sit overnight, and we have to do the cutting of the vinyl."

Megan Wade crouches on the floor as she uses a template to cut vinyl to the right shape and sizeView print quality image
Megan Wade cuts vinyl for the shield masks. Photo courtesy of Megan Wade

For the plastic portion of the shield that covers the face, Wade and Yadavia purchased their materials from Marine Vinyl Fabric, a business owned and run by two IU alumni.

"They are prioritizing shipments of clear vinyl out to people who are doing these sorts of projects for COVID-19," Wade said.

The vinyl arrived in a large roll, so it had to be cut out, trimmed and cleaned before it could be attached to the headband. This process took about 30 minutes, Wade said.

Wade and Yadavia devoted over 200 hours to printing each shield headband, plus the hours it took to assemble the final product. They made 86 shields that were given to IU Health and Garden Villa, a nursing home in Monroe County, Wade said.

The women completely self-funded their project, Yadavia said. Each shield cost about $1.75 to make.

To add a personal touch for those who receive the PPE, the women tucked laminated, removable messages with various inspirational quotes about community into the shield headband.

A message included with a shield reads: Alone we can do so little; together we can do so muchView print quality image
Inspirational messages were tucked inside each shield. Photo courtesy of Megan Wade

"It's kind of like a fortune cookie but with a supportive message," Wade said. "Our health care workers, they're out there doing their jobs every single day, and we just wanted to add something to let them know that people in the bigger community are supporting them."

Wade said their goal was to make over 100 shields, but because of technical difficulties with the printer, they had to cease production once they reached 86 shields.

This summer, Wade plans to move to Washington, D.C., to work in public-sector consulting, she said. Yadavia said she wants to work as a human resources information system analyst in the future.

"We both transferred to IU for our undergraduate degrees. We enjoyed our time here at IU and we're happy we were able to partake in a graduate program that allowed us to focus on something we're interested in," Yadavia said.