Photo credit: Becky Kirkland – NC State University Communications
When WakeMed Hospital contacted NC State’s Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics (CAMAL) desperately needing personal protective equipment, Ola Harrysson and his team started running six their 3D printers 24/7 to create the face shields the health professionals need while battling the COVID-19 virus.
CAMAL creates them by printing the frame and attachment buckles with a file created by Budmen, a 3D printer manufacturer (https://budmen.com/). Then, the team attaches a foam strip where the skin touches the frame. After attaching the strip, they add the buckles, elastic band and the plastic sheet. “We have some issues with a couple of machines breaking down, and a couple of times, we ran out of materials because they couldn’t deliver fast enough,” said Ola Harrysson, Edward P. Fitts Distinguished Professor and Director of CAMAL. Even with these issues, CAMAL still produces about 150 masks a day and is getting close to its 1000 mark. The best part about these masks? They can be disinfected and reused as many times as needed.
“This has pretty much been done by the grad students who are working in the lab,” Harrysson said. Matthew White is one of those ISE grad students, having worked for many years in the lab. White created the production line and optimized face shields to print as many as possible. The students have created an assembly line with White making jigs for cutting materials and holes into the shield to make the process smoother. White and Eli Wilson, an undergrad researcher with the ISE department, are the only students qualified to run one of the machines. They take turns every 10 hours emptying the printed parts. The other printers need unloading every hour. In total, six students are in the lab around the clock to continuously print and assemble face shields. Students are learning about real issues that can arise during production. “I think they have realized sourcing can be a big problem,” Harrysson reflected. “For them, this is a great industrial engineering experience.”
Some companies are looking into mass production of face shields, but as long as they’re not delivering, CAMAL is printing. “These guys are getting experience with product development at the same time,” Harrysson remarks as CAMAL is also working on researching and producing other items that can help healthcare workers.
They are looking into printing head straps to prevent face mask straps from cutting into health care workers’ ears. They are also creating a frame for N95 masks so that workers can reuse their masks longer. Another project the team is looking into is designing a new framework to help seal KN95 masks around the face. Harrysson said, “If we don’t have to print face shields anymore, then we’ll probably go over into printing these frames for the facemasks full time.”