In recent years, 3D printing has emerged as a manufacturing solution for countless areas of everyday life, from producing musical instruments to housing structures and even prosthetic limbs. Now, it’s in the spotlight for its potential to protect medical professionals from exposure to novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Marymount University professor Dr. Eric Bubar is getting in on the action, with hopes of utilizing his unique skills to make a difference. A longtime provider of 3D printed upper-limb assistive devices, he is now shifting his focus to creating 3D printed, reusable face shields for use at hospitals in Washington, D.C., New York and beyond.
“It has been quite an adventure to build up a nationwide distribution network to meet the needs that are out there, all while turning my home into a 3D printing farm,” Dr. Bubar reflected. “As fast as I crank them out, they’re scooped up by medical providers!”
Designing the Face Shields
He has partnered with the D.C. chapter of Enabling the Future, also known as “e-NABLE,” a global community of volunteers who provide 3D printed prosthetics to those in need. Chapters of e-NABLE across the country have joined forces in a national effort to provide 3D printed face shields at no cost to assist the personnel working on the front lines against COVID-19, while addressing the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The shields being produced, Dr. Bubar says, are from two open source designs — one released by Prusa Research and designed in collaboration with the Czech Ministry of Health, and the other designed by Verkstan in Sweden. These were determined to be the most helpful for health care personnel after medical providers in the local area tested several models. Both designs can be disinfected so they can be cleaned and reused, therefore helping to preserve the longevity of PPE that medical providers have available to them.
Dr. Bubar explained that while they’re not the “ideal solution,” the face shields provide an added layer of protection for health care workers until large-scale manufacturing of PPE equipment can begin to meet the intense demand.
A former student of Dr. Bubar’s who graduated Marymount in 2017, Johanna Gomez, played a role in testing the various face shield models. Now working in a local ophthalmology office, she says their ability to obtain a sufficient number of masks for patients and staff has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But as an office which cares for patients that have urgent vision-threatening issues or conditions, they cannot afford to close.
“When [Dr. Bubar] asked for the opinion of medical professionals, I gladly reached out — and after speaking with my supervisors, they were so happy and relieved I had,” Gomez said. “We need every bit of help we can get to keep our patients and ourselves safe. During uncertain times like these, we need innovative thinkers and overall kind people who are willing to extend a hand despite the costs of materials, time or energy.”
“Good as Gold”
So far, e-NABLE has shipped about 250 face shields to locations in Washington, D.C., Arlington, Annandale, Woodbridge and Hyattsville locally, and to farther afield locations in New York City, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Florida and California. Dr. Bubar worked with Maricé Morales, an attorney in Rockville and a former Maryland state delegate, to have face shields sent to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, one of the medical centers that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also where Dr. Myra Morales, her sister and a resident of the hospital’s psychiatry department, has been working nights in the ICU.
The shields debuted there on Sunday evening. One of the doctors described the 100-plus shields they received as “good as gold,” and gave feedback to Dr. Bubar and his partners that is resulting in a rapid prototype adjustment which is made possible by the quick efficiency that 3D printing offers. Morales is now assisting with the effort to get Montgomery County Schools on board, as well as finding out specific needs for local hospitals in the greater Washington region.
“I have been worried sick about our health heroes, like my sister. I could not stand still knowing that she was being exposed to the infection on a daily basis with the possibility of treating [patients] with no protective gear,” Morales said. “It is super heartwarming to know that I can count on my community to respond with this level of kindness.”
Coordinating a Team Effort
To make this kind of coordinated response possible, it requires experts of various fields and volunteers from different areas of society.
“It’s a large effort with lots of people involved, one that was basically built up over a weekend,” Dr. Bubar explained. “Coronavirus moves fast, but so does our response to it.”
To increase the capacity to help, Marymount University donated to support the costs of all the materials necessary to produce the face shields, while Interior Design professors Doug Seidler and Moira Denson lent their printing expertise and industry connections. This allowed Dr. Bubar to work with Peter von Elling and Eric Offerman at Nova Labs, a makerspace located in Reston, Va., which is providing laser cutting services to produce the clear shield pieces in bulk.
Marymount alumnus Philip Bui joined the effort, and is working to ship 100 face shields to providers in New York City. A current Marymount student, Eric Malani, has also pitched in by printing shields at home on his 3D printer.
“As a volunteer EMT and Emergency Department scribe, I am honored to use 3D printing technology to provide much-needed personal protective equipment to my colleagues in the field of emergency medicine, who are on the front lines battling COVID-19,” Malani said.
Dr. Bubar’s partnership with e-NABLE DC, led by Madison Bondoc, prompted the creation of a GoFundMe page, “e-NABLE Combat against the Coronavirus,” to help in the purchase of additional supplies. Each face shield is composed of roughly $4 to $5 in raw materials, which volunteers have been covering for out of pocket. But in just seven days, the GoFundMe has raised more than $6,200 of their $10,000 goal. This will go a long way towards helping the volunteers focus not on paying for supplies, but on the process of 3D printing, assembling and shipping PPE to medical professionals, hospitals, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals.
Other schools and universities have also joined in the fight. Amanda Jarvis, the head of Mason Innovation Exchange at George Mason University, is working on creating 3D printed portions of the face shields to match the quantity of laser-cut pieces being produced. Meanwhile, Matt Cupples, a makerspace teacher in Arlington Public Schools, has laser cutter access and is helping print more face shields with the assistance of volunteers in his school system.
Cupples got involved after seeing a tweet from Dr. Bubar calling for help — however, his 3D printers were locked in his school. Arrangements were made for Cupples to enter the school and take the printers home with him, where he also enlisted the help of students’ parents who have 3D printers at their houses.
“With the schools being closed for the year, us teachers were looking for ways that we could use our skills to help our community,” Cupples said. “We were already producing online content for our students and virtually meeting, but we missed the hands-on part of our jobs. This project keeps us connected as a learning community, keeps us busy and helps others.”
While it’s a large group effort making all of this possible, they are always looking for more volunteers! If you’re able to help out in the 3D printing process, Dr. Bubar encourages you to email him directly. Marymount University has also set up a non-contact drop box outside of the guard house at the University’s main entrance off of North Glebe Road in Arlington, where volunteers can leave their 3D printed pieces to be paired with shields that are being laser-cut in bulk by Nova Labs volunteers.