The emails and calls started coming in just days after schools were officially closed due to COVID-19. Students wanted to use their school’s 3D printers to make masks for essential employees who may face a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“There was more and more interest,” says Riley Liddle, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Teacher at Squalicum High School. “The students in the Lemon Club were very interested – it’s a way for them to be useful.”
Meanwhile, Paul Clement, CTE Teacher at Bellingham High School, was hearing from folks around the community asking about using CTE labs to print or otherwise manufacture PPE devices.
The two teachers began researching designs online. The first one they tried failed. Eventually, they found a design created by a dentist, a neurosurgeon and his son in Billings, Montana that was designed to fit the average person’s face. The mask designers fed data on the shape of people’s faces into a modelling system to ensure masks would be a good and comfortable fit. The mask is “super comfortable” according to Liddle.
Using a software called Rhinoceros 3D, the teachers used designs created on a computer (computer-aided-design) to produce the designed object, in a short amount of time. They also use a variety of slicing software as part of the mask printing process. Bellingham Public Schools has 3D printers in all high schools as part of its Career and Technical Education (CTE) coursework and they serve as an integral component for Engineering Technology and Manufacturing classes.
It takes about two hours for each mask to print, and with 3D printers running at Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum High Schools and Kulshan Middle School, they are producing about 6 masks every 4 hours at each school, yielding more than 30 masks per day altogether. The 3D printer creates the plastic frame of the masks. To complete and assemble the mask, a surgical mask is cut into four pieces and one piece is placed into the frame, essentially turning one surgical mask into four.
Since finding a viable design, staff have been focused on keeping the machines running as continuously as possible. Within the first four weeks they met their goal of making 300 mask frames, and by April 7, staff and students had fully assembled more than 80 masks, which were donated to Whatcom Unified Command.
“The collaboration and responsiveness of our CTE teachers and our students is CTE education at its best — hands on, innovative and responding to real world challenges,” said Jeff Tetrick, Director of Teaching and Learning for CTE. “This project is The Bellingham Promise in action.”
The teachers are planning to continue the project and hope to make 250-400 additional masks in the next three weeks. However, more elastic is needed complete the mask assembly. To donate elastic, please contact Riley Liddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about the inventors of the mask design: https://www.ktvq.com/news/coronavirus/billings-inventors-re-usable-mask-gaining-global-interest
Read more about local PPE supply needs and how to donate: https://whatcomcovid.com/donations/