Tech-savvy students, teachers harness expertise to make medical supplies for local healthcare heroes

Tech-savvy students, teachers harness expertise to make medical supplies for local healthcare heroes
By: Julia Demma Last Updated: April 15, 2020

Editor’s note: Have other examples of students and school staff making supplies for healthcare workers? Tell us about it by filling out the form here!

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most students were using their 3D printers to make prototypes and dream about how their creations would someday change the world. Overnight, that’s become a reality.

As COVID-19 continues to flip our world upside down and introduce us to a new normal, medical workers are in desperate need of proper personal protective equipment, including face shields and facemasks.

The type of face shield they need to provide the right protection while caring for patients includes a piece of clear, curved plastic suspended in front of the face by a headband. These face shields help stop droplets and bodily fluids from reaching the professional’s eyes, nose, or mouth.

Students, teachers, and others have mobilized to put their 3D printers to use for a greater cause and are donating their creations to local hospitals and healthcare organizations who are fighting the pandemic on the front lines.

The 3D printers have allowed the students to circumvent long production times and design and print hundreds of face shields in a day. The shields are made from transparency sheets (thin sheets of transparent flexible material commonly placed on an overhead projector for display to an audience).

So far, the Safe Harbor Michigan City Robotics Team has provided hundreds of safety shields to hospitals and health workers in Michigan City, La Porte, Starke County, Franciscan Health Indianapolis, University of Illinois at Chicago, Porter Home Health, and more.

“We’re so thankful to be able to connect the STEM skills that are built in this program to real-world needs. These students are not getting a grade for this, they aren’t required to do this. They are compassionate students who are choosing to do this outside of their eLearning curriculum because they understand they have a special skillset that is valuable to the world,” said Abby May, Program Director for the Safe Harbor.

A Michigan City High School student creates protective face masks and face shields from his home dining room table

Altogether, students and mentors of the Safe Harbor Michigan City Robotics Team have access to 20 3D printers and are able to produce five protective shields per day, or up to 100 shields daily at max production.

Their work is supported by organizations like ArcelorMittal, NIPSCO, Unity Foundation of La Porte County, Michigan City Community Enrichment Corporation, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Sullair Michigan City, and Michigan City Area Schools.

If you are in the Michigan City area and have transparency sheets to donate, please contact Michigan City High School Associate Principal Julie Fregien to schedule a pickup at jfregien@mcas.k12.in.us, (219) 588-1801.

Over in La Porte, Mrs. Bethany Smith, Kesling Intermediate School STEM teacher and La Porte Middle School teacher, and Mr. Miles Fettinger, computer science teacher and media specialist at La Porte High School, are also making their mark. The two just recently finished their first round of 3D-printed face shields for La Porte Hospital and a whopping 600 replacement eye shields.

A box of 3D-printed face shields reads, "Thank you all for what you do! You are wonderful! Please stay safe"

“I come in twice a day to get to work on production, and I’m always happy to help. I really feel for our medical professionals right now and want to help them as much as I can,” Fettinger said. “I would hate for somebody in the healthcare industry in La Porte to suffer if we had the ability to stop or slow the spread, and if this makes a difference, I am all for it.”

Both instructors will continue to print over spring break. On April 9, the company of Bye Mor also donated 40 boxes of clear transparency sheets to the cause that will be used in the shield base.

At Crown Point High School, the robotics team is hard at work producing the same protective wear. A former CPHS student, Matt Pochron, has created glasses frames that can be used at local hospitals to help protect medical personnel. Through Pochron and the CPHS robotics team’s efforts, volunteers were able to cover all Franciscan Health Crown Point’s face mask needs.

Crown Point High School's robotics team's 3D-print equipment, Dremel Digilab

Purdue University Northwest students and faculty have been volunteering to support the need for personal protective equipment for first responders during the global pandemic.

Students from PNW’s College of Technology, with support from their faculty and staff mentors, are putting six of the university’s 3D printers to work to produce pieces of face shields. The pieces are a crucial part of the face shields that protect emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and other first responders when treating patients who might be carrying the coronavirus.

The printed face shield parts will be donated to InHealth, a Valparaiso-based ambulance service that operates throughout Northwest Indiana and has sent crews to respond to the crisis in New York.

InHealth will also use the PNW-produced parts, along with straps and plastic shields made by another volunteer, to assemble face shields that will be distributed to Northwest Indiana health care providers, including front-line staff at area hospitals. The PNW College of Nursing and the Northwest Indiana Area Health Education Center also are contributing financial support to the effort.

In addition to 3D printing efforts, school faculty members and students have chipped in by producing homemade facemasks to help slow the spread of COVID – 19. The CDC recommends wearing these cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

These masks help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Locally, Dawn Combis, business education teacher at Lake Central High School, has spent her free time sewing – a lot.

Lake Central High School Business Education teacher Dawn Combis sits by sewing machine with many homemade face masks, wearing one.

For assistance making your own facemask at home, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html for instructions.