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Science and Innovations

ASU Students Create Network Of 3D Printers To Meet Demand For Protective Equipment

Courtesty of ASU PPE Response Network

Students at Arizona State University have created a network of three hundred 3D printers, to meet ongoing demands for personal protective equipment or PPE. The project’s organizers say since the pandemic began they’ve filled more than fifteen thousand orders for gowns, masks, and other equipment needed by healthcare workers. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke about the project with Mark Naufel, the director of ASU’s Luminosity Lab, which brings students together from different departments to solve real-world problems.

What inspired you to start this project?

It was interesting. For ASU, our students, our lab meets actively every week in person, and they left for spring break, and by the time spring break was done we were all remote. I remember meeting with the team on Zoom for the first time. It was really the students that felt like we needed to do something. At the time, I think everyone remembers early on in the pandemic, there was a bit of a crisis in the supply chain in PPE. Hospitals, many groups couldn’t get access to PPE. Students said—there was a huge community out there that was creating PPE in their homes. At ASU we quickly gathered together all the 3D printers that we had access to and started connecting to the community more informally just to build this network of people that could rapidly create PPE.

What kinds of personal protective equipment, PPE, did you find were most in demand?

Face shields, people made a lot of face shields, that’s mostly what people produced via the network because they’re easy to rapidly manufacture. Obviously the N95 masks were very sought after, but you couldn’t really print those, and so we had a project in our lab where students developed a 3D printable N95 mask in partnership with Gore using their filter that would work. We didn’t officially distribute those on the site at scale, but if people asked us we did that on a smaller scale. Flagstaff Medical Center we sent up a lot of those prototypes and some 3D printers to help them set up their own operation there… We also did the ear strap savers, those are less PPE more of a comfort thing.

Ear strap savers, what are those?

Healthcare workers if they’re wearing the masks all day it’s really tough on their ears. There is this thing you can 3D print that allows it to strap to the back of the head so it puts less pressure on the ear, they call it the ear saver strap, I guess.

Can you tell me what’s been the most rewarding part of the project for you so far?

Two parts. I think watching it be developed by the students who had the idea and wanted to see it come to fruition, and actually see thousands of PPE go out to medical providers. That was so special. And then being able to do some of the delivery days, my wife and I would do some of those, drive some packages out, and just meeting with the people receiving the PPE, they were so grateful. There was a disbelief this was actually arriving and it was free and it was good PPE. I just thought that was really touching. Especially these smaller clinics, medical providers where they literally didn’t have PPE. We could tell what we brought them tody, that’s what they were using to keep their operation going. It’s been really fulfilling in a lot of ways.

What’s next for this project?

One of the things we’re doing now, our students developed two propriety sterilization systems within the lab that are now open source that are cost effective. One is vapor hydrogen peroxide based and one is an ozone based sterilization system. These are really so that now that people have means of commercial PPE, the goal is to reuse it, especially the N95 masks. We’ve tested these sterilization systems at labs at ASU and they get a log-6 reduction in the viral load… That’s like a 99.999 percent reduction, that’s the scientific standard you want to achieve for sterilization…. We’re trying to get those out there to as many people as possible so now instead of getting rapidly manufactured PPE, they can now reuse their PPE a little bit longer… It’s just been fun to see what a bunch of students are able to achieve.

Mark Naufel, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Thank you.

Learn more about ASU's PPE Response Network:

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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