Campus rallies to 3-D print protective medical gear

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On August 4, 2020

When Phelps Health representatives anticipated a shortage of masks due to the coronavirus outbreak and needed help, S&T students, faculty and staff answered using technology and ingenuity.

Campus was abnormally quiet Saturday and Sunday, March 21–22, not only because it was the weekend before spring break, but also because, due to the coronavirus outbreak, most students had moved out for the semester and a majority of faculty and staff were preparing to work remotely. But 3-D printers in a couple of buildings on campus were humming away, fabricating prototype masks and face shield brackets.

Inside the Kummer Student Design Center, where S&T students usually work on rockets, solar cars, Mars rovers and other projects, a few students, faculty and staff outfitted one room with a dozen 3-D printers to produce prototypes for Phelps Health’s physicians, nurses and other medical workers.

Across campus, students at Missouri S&T’s Makerspace were using their 3-D printers to fabricate prototypes of the face shield brackets. 

‘Phenomenal’ prototypes

The S&T prototypes “are phenomenal,” says Casey Burton, Chem’13, PhD Chem’17, director of medical research at Phelps Health.

Although there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rolla at the time, Burton and Shawn Hodges, Phelps Health’s director of ancillary and surgical services, foresaw the need to obtain more protective gear for the Rolla-based regional health system.

“Shawn had already been experimenting with 3-D printed masks with Rolla High School but realized he needed to drastically scale up production capacity to meet the needs of our community,” Burton says. “He reached out to me to rally the university and beyond for their support and to help organize those operations with him on our end.”

Burton asked S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani if it was possible to harness the university’s 3-D printing capabilities to aid in the effort. Dehghani directed others across campus to do what they could to assist.

The Kummer Student Design Center staff and students were among the first to respond. Chris Ramsay, MetE’83, MS MetE’85, assistant vice provost for student design and director of the center, marshalled the few remaining student members of the center’s 19 design teams to set up a 3-D printer farm to run 24 hours a day in the center at 10th Street and Bishop Avenue.

“We started out with five” 3-D printers at the design center, Ramsay says. “I sent a note out to all the design teams, and the students and alumni who were still in town brought their printers in and now we’re up to 12.”

Students re-energized

“This has re-energized our design team students,” Ramsay says. Hundreds of S&T students had worked since the fall on projects for spring and summer design competitions that were canceled due to the coronavirus. “This community need fulfills a hunger that they have to do something positive and meaningful in this crisis.”

While the design center produced prototype surgical masks, S&T’s Makerspace chief executive officer Daustin Hoelscher, a senior computer engineering major from Mascoutah, Ill., was printing a prototype bracket for the face shields.

“This was a game changer for us and even the rest of the world, so we appreciate Missouri S&T’s efforts,” says Dr. Brian Kriete, otolaryngologist and medical director of surgical services at Phelps Health.

“The rapid response and support for one of our important community partners typifies the true S&T spirit of innovation, ingenuity and community engagement.”

“I’m so pleased with how our university community has come together to help in this time of need,” says Dehghani. “The rapid response and support for one of our important community partners typifies the true S&T spirit of innovation, ingenuity and community engagement. I am very proud of the way our university has responded to this critical need.”

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On August 4, 2020. Posted in 2020, Around the Puck, News, Research, Summer 2020