M-SET mentors and students print and deliver 3-D-printed face shields to local hospitals

April 11, 2020 — by Andy Chen and Kaasha Minocha
Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 9

Senior M-SET mentor Dr. Nguyen shares how the process of making the face shields began and what the impact has been.

With the COVID-19 pandemic more severe than ever, health care workers are growing increasingly desperate for masks, face shields, gowns and ventilators. In several local hospitals, nurses and doctors are rationing face shields by reusing ones that are disposable, grimy and impossible to disinfect. 

In response to this problem, members of the Mechanical Science and Engineering Team (M-SET) have organized an initiative to provide 3-D printed face shields for hospital workers. Currently, the club, led by adult senior mentors, has made over 700 face shields for hospitals including Good Samaritan Hospital, Palo Alto Medical Foundation Respiratory Clinic, Valley Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente.

As an interventional cardiologist at Good Samaritan and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, senior mentor Anh-Quan Thinh Nguyen, who started the effort, said he feels a sense of obligation for helping medical workers navigate this crisis. He recalls looking at a nurse at the Foundation, not upset, but with a “fatalistic look on her face,” because she had one mask for the day, and it was torn.
Incidents like this made Nguyen consider what he and others could do to support his friends and colleagues. About two weeks ago, he began reading articles online about companies 3-D printing face shields and respirators and distributing them to local hospitals. 

Nguyen searched for face shield designs that would be simple enough to 3-D print, and after finding a design from Budmen Industries, he contacted the other senior mentors to implement his idea. 

“I leveraged the people I knew [at the hospital], and I just called them up and asked them if more medical supplies were something they needed,” Nguyen said. “I wanted to make sure it was because I didn’t want to waste the effort if it wasn’t necessary.” 

After this, the senior mentors created 28 face shields and sent them to Good Samaritan Hospital. 

This was just the start of the process. After parent Sheeba Garg, the robotics club adviser, found a much more robust design called PRUSA, the mentors made minimal modifications and began printing those instead. They printed another 30 face shields for Good Samaritan. As of April 11, the team had delivered over 140 face shields to Good Samaritan alone.

The reach of this effort expanded from there. The mentors have partnered with a makerspace in Sunnyvale called Maker Nexus. It is now printing the same PRUSA face shields and distributing them to hospitals such as Kaiser Permanente and Valley Medical Center. 

“Maker Nexus is very supportive of [our efforts],” Nguyen said. “Sometimes, to save time and efficiency, Mrs. Garg will bring Makerspace the plastic for the face shields, and they’ll exchange them for plastic that’s already been cut, so our work is synchronous.”

M-SET club members, many of whom have 3-D printers, have also printed several face shields, which are then sent directly to Maker Nexus. 

One such student is sophomore Aeshon Balasubramanian, who adapted his hobbies and skills to further the efforts and save lives in the community. Currently, he has printed 38 face shields.

“I feel proud and inspired to be helping these doctors protect themselves while they are on the frontlines fighting the virus,” Balasubramanian said.

The mentors alone have at least six 3-D printers, which can print up to eight face shields a day. Depending on the size of the print bed — the surface of the printer where the materials that make up a 3D print are laid out — two face shields typically take three and a half hours to make. 

“We did attempt printing four shields on top of each other to increase efficiency, but we are finding those to be not as reliable,” Nguyen said.

Another machine both the mentors and Maker Nexus rely on is the laser cutter, which is used to cut the plastic part of the face shield. 

“Maker Nexus can do more than 100 laser cuts easily in a day, so that’s not the issue,” Nguyen said. “It’s the printers that are slower.”

Nguyen’s goal is to start printing more face shields and routing those to Maker Nexus to increase distribution as they connect with various hospitals in the area. 

Nguyen’s colleagues and members of the community have been grateful for M-SET’s contribution. 

“I talked to an Infection Control worker, and she was so moved by the effort because somebody in the community wanted to do something for them, so it’s really cool to see that,” Nguyen said. 

An ICU doctor also told Nguyen that he and his nurses are  “inspired and proud to work here with a gesture like this.” 

According to Garg, as long as the coronavirus continues to pose a threat and personal protective equipment is in short supply, the club will keep on printing masks.

“This is truly a community effort across the Bay Area and we are grateful to be able to do our part,” she said.