School district 3D printers being used for community service

BAR HARBOR—As part of their remote learning, several students are making personal protective equipment for people working essential jobs around the area.  

A short time after the Mount Desert Island Regional School District was closed as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID19, a couple of students and a computer expert from the community called high school principal Matt Haney to see if 3D printers at the school could be put to use. Each caller had ideas about what items could be made such as face shields and/or mask strap holders, so Haney asked them to coordinate their efforts with a focus on making it educational and a community service.  

Unable to enter the school to retrieve the printers, MDIHS junior Tyler ‘TJ’ Willis gave explicit instructions to the school’s custodian to collect the equipment and bring it to the students outside the school. Willis originally worked with 3D printers as a student of Conners Emerson School, but has learned much more in recent weeks. 

According to Willis, it takes less than two minutes to make a face shield. Some parts of the face shield are made with the 3D printer, while the shield itself is made using a laser cutter that belongs to the high school. 

“We mostly print in batches of different parts and then assemble,” Willis explained in an email. “The mask strap takes about 10 minutes to print for a standard medium. However, we are always working on shortening the time it takes to make the straps by making new designs, speeding up the machine and such.” 

Using 17 3D printers from throughout the Mount Desert Island Regional School District, Hancock Grammar School, College of the Atlantic and a few additional personal devices, Willis and fellow students Finn Syffer, Logan Reece and Eli Wales, who attends the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, are making face shields, mask strap holders and bias tape sewing jigs that go inside cloth masks for people working the front lines of healthcare, food service and emergency response, as well as for vulnerable members of the community.

“We are currently making face shields for first responders and hospitals,” said David Charron, who owns Compusult, Inc. in Southwest Harbor and was one of the people who originally called Haney. “There is an approved design for a one-piece model, but it needs a large printer – we only have a few of those.” 

School district technology leaders Mike Brzezowski, Wendell Oppewall and Mark Arnold are guiding the process as well as making some of the PPEs. Spencer Gray and Ruvan de Graaf from COA have also joined the manufacturing team.  

“Whenever possible, we are sticking to using NIH-approved designs with no modification,” said Arnold, referring to the National Institutes of Health. “But at times, we need to modify the designs to make them printable on our smaller FlashForge Finders.” 

So far, the group has printed thousands of mask strap holders – so the wearer’s ears don’t have to bear the brunt. 

“These have been quite popular – we have given out over 2,000,” said Charron in an email. “Northern Light hospital staff asked if we could make a version to put their ponytails through, so the students jumped on the 3D CAD software and made prototypes. The first was too flimsy, so it got thicker. We are trying to optimize – speed of printing and the least material versus sturdy product.” 

They are also in the process of making about 1,000 face shields, Willis added.  

“The students hit the 3D CAD program and have been designing versions that can be printed on the smaller beds of the printers we have,” Charron explained about the face shield making process. “Several designs have come about, and we are still trying to figure them out. One model is printed in four pieces and snaps together. Another model is printed kind of curled up, then we pop it in an oven to soften the plastic and shape it while it is cooling.  

“They even designed an adjustable strap!” Charron said in the email about the students. “These young men have done an absolutely amazing job with R&D and manufacturing – all while social distancing.” 

As the students do the work creating PPEs, Charron delivers finished product to area organizations and businesses, as well as collecting supplies. He recently received a request from MDI Search and Rescue for face shields for their hiking helmets. 

Tremont Consolidated Elementary School sixth-grade student Perley Ellis has been using the 3D printer he got for Christmas last year to make mask strap holders. His in an independent effort, and Ellis recently delivered 20 of the straps to the health clinic in Southwest Harbor.  

“Those who would like to help can donate PLA filament, acetate (overhead projector sheets) or other supplies,” Arnold said. “If they have their own 3D printer, they can become part of the manufacturing process. We can give the design files we are using. They can then produce the parts at home and deliver them to us. As we get ramped up, we may also have a need for an assembly team.” 

Recipients of the donated PPEs include medical clinics in Southwest Harbor, MDI Hospital, Southwest Harbor Food Mart, Bar Harbor’s Hannaford, Maine Veterans Home in Bangor, Northern Light hospitals in Ellsworth and Blue Hill, the Southwest Harbor-Tremont Nursing Service (ambulance service), the post office and fire department in Southwest Harbor, The Jackson Laboratory, school district staff, Carroll Drug Store, Side Street Cafe and an ambulance service in Bangor.  

Those looking for PPE can contact David Charron at [email protected] 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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