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Getting Creative To Meet the Need For Personal Protective Equipment in Healthcare

Face mask frames created in the New Paltz 3D printing lab are spread out on a table.

For medical personnel at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective gear like face shields and masks have become essential to their jobs, keeping them safe from the coronavirus, and maybe even saving their lives. An alarming shortage of these items has led some SUNY campuses to manufacture shields and masks. But it’s the way they’re doing it that shows the ingenuity of our schools.

Old Office Supplies Find New Use in Healthcare

With a robust network of partnerships across the region and a sophisticated 3D printing lab, the Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center at SUNY New Paltz was perfectly positioned to begin making face shields. The shields protect healthcare workers from inhaling airborne virus particles and are essential to treating patients with COVID-19.

The process began when Dan Freedman posted a call for unused overhead transparencies on Facebook in mid-March.

Phlebotomists at the Orange Regional Medical Center show their appreciation for the new face shields they received that were made at the SUNY New Paltz 3D printing lab.

Phlebotomists at the Orange Regional Medical Center show their appreciation for the new face shields they received that were made at the SUNY New Paltz 3D printing lab.

“When we switched to smartboards and Powerpoints, these transparencies became obsolete,” says Freedman, dean of the School of Science and Engineering and director of the HVAMC. “Every educator has a pile of these in their closets. We got a couple thousand of them from throughout the Northeast.”

Freedman posted the instructions for making face shields online and invited anyone who wanted to get involved to make them. Today, HVMAC has 22 partners, including Ulster County, local high schools and colleges, and private companies, including IBM. By the end of the month, Freedman expects to be shipping 500 face shields a day to area hospitals, nursing homes, and medical services companies, as well as the Ulster County Health Department for distribution. SUNY Cortland will also receive face shields for distribution in that community.

The entire operation was funded by Central Hudson Gas & Electric and the Novo Foundation.

From Household Protection to Personal Protection

Down at Stony Brook University, the iCREATE lab also had a 3D printer and the desire to make face shields. The question was how. Working with his team, iCREATE Director David Ecker realized they could use door insulation material from Home Depot for the forehead cushion, elastic from Jo-Ann’s Fabric and Craft store, and plastic sheets like those found in a folder from Staples.

The iCREATE lab is now working on procuring materials to produce 5,000 face shields in all. Stony Brook plans to deliver 100 face shields to the hospital each day.

Hacking Our Way to New PPE

At Binghamton, faculty are making both face shields and N95 masks. Renovations at the Fab Lab– part of a $22 million upgrade to the Engineering Building– have enabled faculty and students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science to make a three-piece face shield, using computer-aided design software.

The campus is expected to produce 300 to 400 face shields each day and will ship them to Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital for assembly.

Faculty are also improving on an internet-sourced design for reusable N95-style face masks. The masks feature two types of plastic: a softer one to create a tight seal around the nose and mouth, and another more rigid one to hold high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters over the breathing hole. The electrostatically charged filters came from a local home-improvement store and were cut down for size.

Campuses Collaborate to Make a Difference

In the spirit of collaboration, engineers and scientists at all three campuses as well as University at Buffalo, SUNY Poly, and SUNY Canton have been sharing designs and ideas.

University at Buffalo plans to make 25 face shields a day, while SUNY Canton will make 20. Meanwhile, SUNY Poly in Albany plans to produce 400 face shields a day. SUNY Poly’s Utica campus plans to ramp up to 1,000 a day when a lab with the capacity to cut plastic re-opens. Soon, the campuses collectively make more than 600 face shields each day, for local hospitals or state reserves.

Together, all of our SUNY schools are making an immeasurable impact on New York’s efforts to combat the COVID19 coronavirus.

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Written by Winnie Yu

Winnie Yu is a writer in the Office of Communications at SUNY System Administration.

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