SOUTHEAST: As COVID-19 has sent students home to learn remotely for the remainder of the semester and employees to remote work sites for the coming weeks, Southeast Missouri State University is unusually quiet.
But breaking that deafening silence is the innovation and dedication of faculty and staff working rapidly to engineer Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the local healthcare community. The hum of 3D printers and a laser cutter in Southeast’s Seabaugh Polytechnic Building is music to the ears of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Cape Girardeau.
Southeast Missouri State University is producing face shields to help safeguard the community’s healthcare workers. About 100 shields were delivered over the weekend to SoutheastHEALTH with more to follow to other facilities over the next few weeks.
“We knew there was a need, so we reached out to the hospitals, they confirmed the demand and with the encouragement and support of University President Carlos Vargas, we proceeded accordingly,” said Chris Martin, chief of staff. “We all have a responsibility to help fight this unprecedented pandemic, and we felt this was one small way in which we could support our local community.”
Faculty and staff in Southeast’s Kent Library’s Heather MacDonald Greene Multimedia Center, EDvolution Center, Catapult Creative House and the Department of Engineering & Technology, have pooled their 3D printers to build the shields and delivered a prototype to local hospitals on Friday, March 27. In addition to the 3D printers, they are able to get increased production from the Department of Engineering & Technology’s Laser Cutter using a design developed by Scott Wright and Brad Deken within the Department.
A SoutheastHEALTH physician reported wearing one of the shields throughout the day Friday, and said he’s happy with the result.
The design came from a protective visor by 3DVerkstan shared online for others to duplicate. Southeast is replicating this model from thermoplastics using 3D printers from the Heather MacDonald Greene Multimedia Center, Catapult Creative House and the Seabaugh Polytechnic Building.
In addition, Deken and Scott Wright, technology supervisor in Southeast’s Department of Engineering and Technology, designed another face shield version, cutting five-foot by eight-foot sheets of polypropelene plastic with a laser cutter in the Seabaugh Polytechnic Building.
“The advantage of this is that a part can be produced in about three minutes rather than the 1.5 hours with the 3D printer,” Deken said. “We are all working on a common design to learn from one another and speed up production.”
Lots of trial and error went into those being produced on the laser cutter.
“We probably cut about 50 different prototypes with the laser before we settled on one that works pretty well,” Deken said. “We continue to have to tweak the settings on the cutter as we get more experience with it
“The 3D printers are a bit simpler,” he said. “We are able to use the shared design. Even with that, though, it does take some trial and error with the various settings of the 3D printers to get them to print consistently.”
The shields are now in full production by faculty and staff working in shifts to meet the dire need for PPE which has been in short supply nationally. This is the first time Southeast has mass produced an item of this quantity.
“We typically do production as class projects with a goal of making about 50,” Deken said. “With this, we hope to eventually make about 200 a day,” as long as materials last.
In the coming days, and if staffing is available to monitor equipment, the University expects to ramp up production, which will continue for several weeks.
“The way in which everyone has worked to address this throughout the week as faculty are shifting coursework to alternative forms of delivery and staff have migrated to remote work sites is simply amazing,” said President Vargas. “The work of everyone truly embraces and reflects what we already know at Southeast — We Are One.”