Pitching In

Pitching In

Florida Polytechnic University Using 3D Printers to Make Face Shields

by PAUL CATALA

When the opportunity to help patients affected by the coronavirus arose, Matt Bohm says it was the perfect time to share with those in need.

Along the way, the current health crisis has allowed faculty such as Bohm, staff and students at Florida Polytechnic University to do their parts to help curb further transmission of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the coronavirus.

At Lakeland’s Florida Poly, a team has been working to build personal protection equipment for nurses, doctors, therapists and others on the front lines treating patients during the pandemic.

Through a partnership with AdventHealth, a faith-based, nonprofit healthcare system headquartered in Altamonte Springs, the goal of the cooperative effort is to help alleviate a shortage of various protective supplies for healthcare groups and organizations across the United States.

At the university, a group of about 12 student volunteers, interns, and paid laboratory technicians are using 3D printers on the campus, about 12 miles northeast of downtown Lakeland. 

The group is using the 3D printers to make components for the now near-mandatory protective face shields. After the 3D-printed headbands and other pieces are done, staff at AdventHealth’s Nicholson Center in Celebration will work to take the equipment to AdventHealth locations across Central Florida.

Bohm is in charge of organizing the outreach initiative at the university.

“I think in a situation like this, when we have the equipment and expertise, there’s no way we could say ‘no’ to helping,” says Bohm, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of industry engagement and capstone projects at Florida Poly. “We are glad to help; we already have the equipment and the facilities here to help make a difference.” 

The week of April 14, the university delivered 1,350 of the masks to the Nicholson Center. Bohm says the school already had an existing relationship with medical facility through Dr. Scott Bond. Bond had called Bohm saying the facility would eventually need about 20,000 masks for employees in AdventHealth’s operations. 

Depending on which printer is used, one or two headbands can be produced in four to five hours. Bohm says he and the team’s goal is to have 3,000 to 4,000 face shield components finished by the end of May.

To help accomplish that, MakerBot 3D Printers, Brooklyn, New York, donated five printer heads and 20 spools of print materials for the project.

“It’s great to see the effort as a whole community, from moms sewing face masks to students donating time,” Bohm adds. “They’re all helping by chipping in to help during this time of need.”

While making the face shield parts and components, Bohm says he and his team of eight are also being careful to secure their safety through thorough sanitation and by only allowing one person in the lab at a time.

One of those team members, David Ciccarello, 26, of Zephyrhills, says he is “ecstatic” about the chance to help curb the pandemic through his work at Florida Poly. A senior majoring in computer science, he says the work has been rewarding, although some of it has been a bit repetitive. He says he has been able to add some creativity to the project through the use of the laser printers.

“I’m just donating my time to help fight the pandemic,” he says. “It makes me feel valuable and makes my time valuable. I’m hoping this helps reduce the amount of infections by getting more N-95 masks out and other professionals can go back to using them. The more output we produce, the less infections will occur.”

Besides the mask initiative, Florida Polytechnic’s Student Government Association created the “Phund a Phoenix” emergency fund, using $10,000 originally intended for the student government’s events fund. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the fund will serve to help students who may be experiencing unexpected costs associated with the coronavirus. The money can be used for fallout from the disease that could hamper educational success, such as unanticipated necessary travel, emergency child care due to school closures and technology required for remote learning.

Florida Poly is one of a number of colleges and universities across the country and around the world that are giving time, talent and materials to the COVID-19 battle. Others include Oregon State University, the University of Minnesota, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Duke University, Rowan University, and the University of South Carolina.

Additionally, one of Central Florida’s largest research institutions is also waging its own attack on the coronavirus. The University of South Florida Libraries in Tampa put together a map with live updates showing the number of coronavirus cases and deaths. According to the USF website, the university is compiling statistics into residential status, sex and age. USF partnered with Tampa General Hospital to create 3D printed swabs used to test for coronavirus. Officials there also created a fund with a donation from Sen. Rick Scott to help with research regarding the virus. Like Florida Polytechnic, the USF College of Engineering students, faculty, and staff are working to make 3D printed face shields for medical professionals to wear.