Michigan State University is helping local health professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus by making 3D-printed personal protective equipment.
To address the critical need for donations, medical face shields are being produced in a joint effort with colleges across MSU’s campus, including the College of Osteopathic Medicine, College of Engineering, College of Natural Science, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Arts and Letters.
While MSU departments and labs already were donating existing supplies, one faculty member wondered whether new protective equipment could be created from scratch.
“This all stems from the Office of Environmental Health and Safety effort to bring together any and all PPE supplies that were unused in our labs to help out local hospitals,” said Nathan Tykocki, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, referring to an email from the MSU office that protects occupational health. “One of the things that was in the email included N95 masks, normal or 3D-printed. I went, ‘Oh, well that’s interesting.’”
With access to a 3D printer and time at home instead of inside his lab, Tykocki was inspired to act. He learned that while N95 masks can be 3D-printed, they still require a filter component, and their usefulness is not entirely clear. After searching the 3D-printing community online, Tykocki discovered a group in the Czech Republic that made a medical face shield validated by its government. The group’s design has been shared publicly online, providing guidance to people around the world looking to help.
“I just started emailing,” Tykocki said. “Brian Smith of EHS put me in contact with other professors and technicians from a myriad of different colleges and departments. I put the suggestion out there that we should do these shields. The nice thing is these shields are reusable — the plastic can be disinfected without harming it in any way — so the shields are by no means a ‘one and done.’”
While the frame of the medical shields can be created with a 3D printer, they still require other components, including the clear plastic shield itself. Aaron Walworth, laboratory manager in the School of Packaging, had just the thing — a laser cutter to make the clear plastic pieces.
“The pace at which we can cut out the plastic shielding far exceeds that of printing the headband it attaches to,” Walworth said. “It takes less than one minute to cut the shield, compared to several hours to print the headband. I’m currently able to lay out 12 shields to cut at a time on our CAD cutting table.”
Walworth said he was able to cut 132 shields in a matter of hours one afternoon, and others on the team with laser cutters are purchasing more of the appropriate plastic sheeting used to make the shields.
“None of us were PPE makers a few days ago, and now, by pooling our talents, we’re able to do something that will hopefully make a difference,” Walworth said. “Many members of the team didn’t know each other prior to this and have still only met virtually due to social distancing. But there is this great sense of camaraderie as we’re all determined to do what we can to help.”
According to Tykocki, his consumer-grade 3D printer is capable of making 10 frames a day. To increase that rate, Brian Wright and John Papapolymerou of the College of Engineering have coordinated with Tykocki to use their 3D printers for creating the frames. Tykocki also heard from the MSU Library, where someone suggested using the clear plastic covers for binders as one of the materials. MSU St Andrews in Midland also stepped up with a daily capacity to print about 60 frames a day. “Every person that has come on board has gotten us to almost exponential growth,” he said.
A final and crucial component needed for medical face shields is the elastic strap. Enter the Department of Theatre in the College of Arts and Letters. When Tykocki shared the need with his wife, Abigail Tykocki, theatre communications specialist in the college, she suggested reaching out to the MSU Costume Shop for the material.
“We had a ton of elastic, because we buy stock to keep for whenever we need it,” said Angie Wendelberger, the costume shop supervisor. “I had four industrial rolls of elastic just hanging there that no one really could use, so we talked to our chair, Kirk Domer, to see if it was okay to use it. He said it was a good project and we should be collaborative, so he gave us the go-ahead.”
Wendelberger picked up the elastic from the Costume Shop and brought it to the Tykockis on Thursday. “I put gloves on, and I sprayed them all down,” she said. “I will go into a building that could have the virus, and I will get this stuff to help people who are saving the world. I was just glad that I could help in any way. I’m not scientific, and can’t make face shields with a 3D printer, but I can provide elastic.” The team also is reaching out to crafters and sewers in the community to source additional elastic material.
While the Office of Environmental Health and Safety’s initial communication came from a request through the Sparrow Foundation, Tykocki says those involved in the production of the medical face shields want them to be available to health care providers in hospitals across the state. As the shield components are produced, the team members are careful to keep the pieces clean and disinfected. “We’ve been working out the logistics of the supply chain to get the different pieces together to make them and then get them over in a hurry to the people that need them.”
Laura Bix, assistant dean for teaching, learning and academic analytics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, sees this cross-campus effort as indicative of MSU’s founding principles.
“I think that what is happening is a powerful example of the culture of the land-grant mission, a culture that engages citizens to solve problems,” Bix said. “These efforts also highlight the low barrier to collaboration across disciplinary silos that is part of the fabric of MSU. Many disparate disciplines and areas from campus are collaboratively working to help our providers and the community at large utilize our knowledge, equipment and systems to address immediate needs creatively.”
The collaborative nature of the MSU community is what brought Tykocki back to the university a year ago and continues to inspire him in the face of an unprecedented pandemic.
“In this crisis situation, all of these people are sitting here talking with me from their living rooms to their dining rooms, doing this together from different colleges,” he said. “This really shows me that collaboration is not limited at all to research. It expands to every aspect of the university, and the willingness of people to work together to help when it’s needed. This is a true example of Spartans Will. This is not just our tagline; at the moment, it is the true statement of what sort of community we have.”