DePaul University faculty, students use 3D printers to make face shields, face mask covers

CHICAGO — Health care workers treating COVID-19 patients across the nation are facing a critical shortage of personal protection equipment, especially face shields and respiratory N95 face masks. DePaul University faculty and students are answering the call by using 3D printers to manufacture these much-needed supplies for hospitals in Illinois.

Using medically approved design plans shared through the open source community, DePaul faculty and students in the College of Computing and Digital Media and the College of Science and Health are 3D printing face shields, as well as plastic covers for N95 face masks. The N95 covers, or membranes, allow health care workers to safely reuse the face masks.

“The quality is very high,” said Jay Margalus, faculty director of DePaul’s makerspaces and an instructor in the College of Computing and Digital Media. “We’re using the same materials that would be used to make any face shield. The only difference is that they’re being made by regular people.”

In addition to Margalus, Terry Steinbach, an associate dean in the College of Computing and Digital Media, and Eric Landahl, an associate professor of physics — as well as several student employees — are helping to fabricate the shields and mask covers in the safety of their own homes. Elizabeth Aquino, associate director of DePaul’s Master’s Entry to Nursing Program, is coordinating distribution to hospitals and medical facilities in need of personal protection equipment.

With the university’s campuses shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis, Margalus and his colleagues relocated the printers from DePaul’s makerspaces to their individual homes in order to produce the materials while still adhering to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “stay at home” order.

“This is a great opportunity for us to put the skills we learned in DePaul’s makerspaces to good use,” said Michael Koenig, a DePaul student and member of the Illinois National Guard who is helping to produce the face masks in his parents’ home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. “It feels good to help out in any way one can, and right now, every little bit counts.”

According to Margalus, it takes roughly one hour to print each face shield part. He estimates DePaul’s 18 printers will be able to produce approximately 1,500 to 2,000 face shields per week.

“That’s not even close to meeting current demands,” said Margalus. “Anything we can do will help, but DePaul can’t do it alone.”

Through a partnership with the Illinois chapter of the Nation of Makers, DePaul hopes to mobilize the statewide maker network to dramatically ramp up production. DePaul is also looking to partner with delivery services to distribute the face shields and mask covers to local hospitals and medical facilities.

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