April 03, 2020

Technology educators across the state helping to close PPE gaps

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
david ecker
Caption: UUP member Dave Ecker, director of iCREATE innovation lab at SUNY Stony Brook, is producing about 100 face shield headbands each day, up from the initial 40 per day just over a week ago when production began. Photo provided.

In direct response to the shortage of personal protective equipment for medical professionals, crews at different SUNY campuses and K–12 schools are creating hospital-approved face shields using 3D printers and assembled pieces.

“We were asked: Is this possible?” said Dave Ecker, director of iCREATE innovation lab at SUNY Stony Brook, which shares a campus with Stony Brook Medical Center, where health care professionals were seeking help for personal protection gear. “I worked all night from home and came up with a prototype.”

Already, Ecker’s producing about 100 face shield headbands each day, up from the initial 40 per day just over a week ago when production began. The plastic bands are made with the printers, and the face shields are made with plastic transparencies once used for report covers or on overhead projectors. Ecker, a member of United University Professions, purchased elastic from a fabric store, and door insulation from a home improvement store to be used for forehead cushioning. UUP represents academic and professional staff throughout the State University of New York system.

The shields meet the specifications of the SUNY Stony Brook Medical Center right across the road, where doctors, nurses and staff are in need of PPE for themselves and their patients in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic bearing down hard on New York.

iCREATE, an area within SUNY’s Division of Information Technology, had about 10 3D printers. NYSUT members from neighboring K–12 school districts, Ecker said, donated others. Suffolk County libraries put about 60 of their 3D printers in operation using the iCREATE prototype, and each day they make and deliver plastic bands to Ecker, where his team completes the face shield assembly.

“We’re closing in on 1,000 by this weekend,” said Ecker, who shared his excitement about being able to “step up and make a difference.”

“We’re not a production facility. We were more hands-on experimenting,” he said, noting prior projects included virtual reality, laser cutting and pitch competitions for students. “We had to change our whole mission.”

Ecker said he limits the production team of UUP members and students to 11, so that the makers can keep large distances between them to follow guidelines for safe distancing.

Crews at SUNY New Paltz similarly jumped into face shield production. They have already brought 2,000 new face shields into the medical community.

Their digital design team had about 20 3D printers — some of them basic desktop printers, and some high-end. They started with a prototype made available online by inventors in the Czech Republic. The New Paltz crew made nine prototypes in three days, to make the shields more comfortable and easier to assemble. Each batch was sent for testing and feedback.

“The team manufactured biodegradable polymer headpieces with two crescent-shaped bars,” said Aaron Nelson, a UUP member and assistant professor of digital design and fabrication. The crew is part of the Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center at SUNY New Paltz, directed by Daniel Freedman. (www.newpaltzedu/HVAMC.)

One piece hugs the forehead and the other is studded with nubs that fit through holes punched in a sheet of transparent film – basic report covers. Nelson said many teachers are donating transparencies they had stored.

“In less than a week we had 340 manufactured and delivered to Ulster County’s new COVID-19 testing center,” Nelson said — providing protection for health care professionals administering the up-close tests, and to hospitals, clinics and first responders.

Originally it took about an hour and 10 minutes to make a model; that’s been cut to 35 minutes.

“Our next step is working to build plastic injection molds,” said Nelson. These could conceivably produce 10,000 shield bands a day, he said.

Faculty at UAlbany are also getting face shields into production, using designs from the National Institute of Health, as are unionists at other public higher education campuses across the state.

K–12 educators are using their technology savvy and skill to help produce face shields as well. At East Syracuse Minoa Central School District, teachers reported yesterday that 75 face shield frames had been printed for health care workers, thanks to the technology education department and ESM United Teachers members Michael Pounds and David Ashley, among others. The shields are being provided to Central New York medical workers.

David O’Neil, a math and science educator with the Eastchester Teachers Association is using 10 3D printers he had stored in his basement for his work at a summer camp. He is making about 30 shields a day for donation to New York and White Plains hospitals

Matt Makowiec of West Genesee Teachers Association is also using 3D printers to support a local company making face shields.