Or how my personal additive manufacturing lab was turned into a PPE manufacturing facility.

It was the second week of March 2020 as we closed out the first half of our Spring semester and sent the students home for their traditional week of Spring Break. Lurking already in the background was the spread of the COVID-19 infection. Situated as we are in a largely rural area, such a threat seemed at best a distant problem. But at the end of spring break we extended the students’ return out one more week. And then we were on a permanent hold until May. Maybe we could get in one last week of labs and teaching during our normal finals period, but that was quashed too. Thankfully 93% of our courses were able to complete online, in some fashion or another, but from my own experience not in an ideal manner. But these are not ideal times. And as of this post there are still about 10% of the student body left waiting to know how to complete incomplete Spring semester courses perhaps this summer.

Switching immediately to an online format for a materials science class and a class in additive manufacturing — both with “hands-on” lab components — meant doing some serious modifications. Thankfully I was somewhat already into the technology of video production for teaching. And then the “fun” began.

We do teach our manufacturing students in the 4-year program all sorts of logistics, planning tools, productivity concepts, and more. The strain on the supply chains from panic buying (“where’s the toilet paper??”) honed some of our points often seen as unimportant – but these students were living it. And as for me, seeing the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) was crucial to the safety of healthcare workers and others, the shortages were unacceptable.

So what has been the output? I’ve honestly lost count, but somewhere around 300 face shields, 800 “ear savers” and several hundred other adaptive items (door handle grabbers, key chain sanitizers, cloth mask clips etc.). Among the PPE were some odd items for class. Everything was donated to the recipients – including visiting nurses, nursing homes, dentists, child care centers, etc.

And while it has slowed down, I’m not completely out of the business. I’m sure my work has helped in a small way to contain the spread.

If you’d like to help me pay for my personal materials and wear and tear on my equipment (besides supplies, my MakerBot Replicator+ needed a new extruder and my Flashforge Adventurer crashed a nozzle and build plate) just use the PayPal donation button on the left menu! Even a dollar or two would be a wonderful acknowledgement.