Making masks: Local teachers utilize 3D printers to produce protection
Hearing about health care workers around the world using bandanas for facemasks and trash bags as gowns, teachers CarrieAnn Mathis and Missy Quinn wanted to keep that from happening in Grand County.
So when Grand Innovators reached out to Frank Reeves, superintendent of East Grand schools, to partner on a project to provide Grand County with personal protective equipment, Reeves knew exactly who to reach out to.
“It was really cool because between the time I got a hold of them and when they made their first prototype, it was like 10 hours,” Reeves said.
Mathis, the business and technology teacher at Middle Park High School, began tooling with the two Lulzbot 3D printers she’s storing for the school to see what their capabilities were and researched the different masks she could print.
Ultimately, she found a file for a facemask from the Billings Clinic in Montana, which is developing the masks to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m using these files because (the Billings Clinic) is actually using these masks in their hospitals, so I figured those files would be better,” Mathis said.
Mathis is also working with a student from her technology class who’s acting as a project manager and overseeing the printing.
Quinn, the technology teacher at East Grand Middle School, started by printing ventilator manifolds, or splitters, to address the potential shortage. She printed two-way and four-way manifolds, before adding face masks to her routine.
“Whatever we can to do help out in this time of need, big or small, that’s what we should do at this point,” she said.
While neither the manifolds, nor the masks, are approved by a regulatory agency, Quinn said the hope is to provide something more reliable than a T-shirt or other last resort options.
“We’re hoping, if there is a shortage, that we can help out because there is similar filtration so that people are protected,” Quinn said.
Printing a mask takes approximately four hours. Then a filter is placed around the centerpiece of the mask, and weatherstripping is added around the edges to seal it to the face. Mathis is also using shoestring and toggles as the headstrap.
“I wanted to use materials people might have at home, so it’s not so complicated, and if it breaks, it can be replaced,” Mathis explained.
She and Quinn have also reached out to other businesses to try and get the needed materials for the masks. For example, Lulzbot, the maker of the 3D printers, offered a free supply of the filament that the printers use. More locally, Granby Ace Hardware and City Market have donated filters for the masks.
Grand Innovators has also supplied medical grade filament, Dollar General donated shoelaces and Granby’s Two Pines Supply is offering the toggles to Mathis at cost.
With a first batch of masks prepared this weekend, Mathis drove up to the Grand Lake Center and set up a distribution spot for them there with the help of Grand Lake Fire Chief Kevin Ratzmann.
“This way the masks are at a central point,” she explained, noting that professionals at the testing site would also be able to explain how to fit the mask to someone’s face and how to properly care for and sanitize it.
As they continue to gather supplies and print masks, the goal Mathis and Quinn keep in mind is to at least provide a mask to every health care worker and first responder who needs one. Mathis has also handed out early prototypes to students and school staff, such as bus drivers and janitorial staff.
“Honestly, I’m just going to keep printing because even if every medical provider has one, (someone else) might want one,” Mathis said.
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