JOHNSON CITY – Health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak need personal protective equipment to reduce exposure and limit spread of the disease. East Tennessee State University and community partners are addressing the shortage of medical equipment by developing and manufacturing face shields.
Last week, Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission requested assistance in meeting the increased demand for face shields. The 3D-printed headband for the shield can take a long time to produce, so Dr. Keith Johnson and Bill Hemphill from the Department of Engineering, Engineering Technology and Surveying immediately went to work developing a prototype that does not require a 3D printer. Their goal was to develop a product that can be assembled using supplies available at hardware stores and is also comfortable to wear.
The face shield design uses materials donated by Eastman. Pieces of the shields are cut from a template using a laser engraver. All the face shield parts are collected and put into kits that will be assembled by Facilities Management staff at ETSU. Andrew Worley, emergency management specialist, will assist with shield assembly and ensure staff adhere to all COVID-19 work precautions, including social distancing.
“This is truly a team effort and we are working as quickly as we can to get the materials and people in place to produce as many face shields as possible,” said Johnson, chair for the Department of Engineering, Engineering Technology and Surveying. “Our goal is to produce 1,000 face shields per week. This is a great opportunity for us to do something to help people across the state and right in our community.”
ETSU is working closely with STREAMWORKS, an educational program powered by the Eastman Foundation that is producing 3D printed face shields in its STEM Gym. Quick work and tweaks to their 3D printers have reduced printing time to two hours per headband.
“It’s a multi-prong approach – we’re working together to make sure we get the right plastic for the shield,” said Dennis Courtney, executive director for STREAMWORKS. “Times like this, when the need is urgent, we are focusing on effectiveness, quantity and speed of delivery. We want to do our part to make sure that our community stays safe by doing what we can for our health care heroes.”
CADD designs and photos of the face shield Johnson and Hemphill developed are available to anyone with access to the necessary equipment and supplies. Hemphill, who is well known for his guitar-making classes at ETSU, has shared the designs with other STEM guitar makers across the country. He has repurposed ETSU’s guitar-building lab and his courses to meet this immediate need.
“I told my students that the world changed while they were on spring break,” said Hemphill, an associate professor in the College of Business and Technology. “I told them we would be dropping the assignments we were working on and focusing on real work. I told them to come up with designs and I will build it.”
Although students are taking classes remotely for the remainder of the spring semester, they are focusing on ways to produce and assemble personal protective equipment in an educational lab setting. One class has been assigned to create a mold that would bend the plastic shield to contour around the face.
“Every now and then I have a bright idea and I have asked students to share theirs,” Hemphill said. “We will keep testing ideas and exploring ways we can help during this crisis.”