Michigan Engineering News

Volunteer trying on face shield

U-M-approved face shield design guides makers addressing the PPE shortage through 3D printing

As Ann Arbor’s maker community sprang into action making face shields, Michigan Medicine and the U-M College of Engineering offered a recommended design that is effective and straightforward to produce.

As makers around the state work to answer medical professionals’ calls for more protective gear, a face shield design shared recently by Michigan Medicine and the U-M College of Engineering sets a standard of quality for 3D printing of this kind of protective gear for health care workers. Face shields can extend the life of virus-filtering N95 masks, which are in critically short supply around the world.

3D printer printing a headband
3D printing a headband for the U-M/Prusa face shield at the Duderstadt Center’s 3D Lab. Courtesy of the Fabrication Studio at the Duderstadt Center, University of Michigan.

Doctors and engineers identified the need for face shield specifications through the COVID-19 Rapid Reaction Steering Committee, a joint effort between U-M’s engineering and medical schools convened in late March to triage and solve emerging problems. 

The design is a modification of one released by the Czech 3D printing company Prusa, which had collaborated with the Czech ministry of health to set the specifications. 

“The DIY community was trying to optimize for speed and simplicity, and many had coalesced around the Prusa design,” said Drew Bennett, a member of the rapid reaction team and the associate director of licensing, software, mobile and digital technologies at U-M Tech Transfer.

And it’s not just the maker community mobilizing around face shields—companies are getting into the effort too. The face shield project includes U-M students, alumni, staff and faculty.

The maker community was quickest to respond in Ann Arbor, with Maker WorksOperation Face Shield, and Protect-MI collaborating to set up supply and distribution networks starting the week of March 23. They created drop points for 3D printed headbands and cut-out shields, in the form of pickle barrels partly filled with a bleach solution. Both Operation Face Shield and Maker Works assemble the shields and route them to donation sites such as local hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters. In addition, Maker Works has manufactured thousands of face shields made with a laser-cutting method.

“It’s been amazing to see how many people have these printers at home. Just in Ann Arbor, there are more than 100 printers going 24/7,” said Brian Iezzi, a PhD student in materials science and engineering, on March 31.

At the time of that conversation, it was believed that local makers had a capacity for about 1,000 shields per week. However, since then, Operation Face Shield has grown to more than 1,000 members, with offshoots starting in Grand Rapids and Traverse City. They have now delivered more than 10,000 face shields, sending some donations to other hard-hit areas such as New Jersey and Indiana.

3d Printed headbands sitting in a lab
Two 3D printed headbands for the U-M/Prusa face shield, made at the Duderstadt Center’s Fabrication Studio. Courtesy of the Fabrication Studio at the Duderstadt Center, University of Michigan

The leadership of the multidisciplinary face shield design and logistics team at U-M comprised Bennett; Nick Cucinelli, CEO of U-M spinout Endectra LLC and a leadership instructor at the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship; and Deborah Rooney, Director of Education and Research at Michigan Medicine’s Clinical Simulation Center and associate professor of learning health sciences at Michigan Medicine. 

Three heads of student maker spaces joined them—Justin Schell, head of the Shapiro Design Lab at the Shapiro Undergraduate library; Shawn O’Grady, who manages the Duderstadt Center’s fabrication studio; and Chris Gordon, director of the Wilson Student Team Project Center on U-M’s North Campus—exploring a range of popular modifications and drafting recommendations. The team’s liaison at the hospital, William Roberts, a professor of urology and of biomedical engineering, approved the design. 

Michigan Medicine shared the design via its call for donations of personal protective gear of all kinds. The U-M medical center has been collecting PPE from the community since March 21, at a loading dock at the North Campus Research Complex. Some of the 3D printed face shields donated by companies and community makers have already been put into clinical use at U-M’s hospitals.

As the specifications were being finalized, Cucinelli also worked with Maker Works to coordinate the flow of raw materials, assembly, sterilization, and delivery of face shields to the U-M drop-off donation site. Once that system was in place on March 29, Schell took over daily coordination with both Operation Face Shield and Maker Works.

“Our mission, at the time, was filling the gap to the best of our ability until the large donations and orders started coming in, which looked to be at least 10 days away,” said Schell.

Meanwhile, Bennett helped arrange those large donations from companies like Ford, GM, Steelcase, Toyota, DiDi and others, as they turned their manufacturing equipment to the PPE shortage. In addition, others in the business sector have shifted to making PPE, doing dual duty of serving the medical community and keeping paychecks going to their employees.

Among the business-sector mass production efforts is Akervall Technologies, best known for manufacturing SISU mouthguards. Johannes Schwank, the James and Judith Street Professor of Chemical Engineering at U-M, is the Chief Scientific Officer at Akervall. He credits the leadership team, which includes a medical doctor for St. Joseph Mercy Health System, for the quick pivot. 

With grown children at home who do essential work, Schwank has been unable to set foot on the manufacturing floor for fear of being a potential COVID-19 carrier. Still, holed up in the basement of his house, he has offered advice from afar as the company turned its plant to manufacturing a face shield design according to Food and Drug Administration requirements, following workplace guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

“We have the capacity to ramp up and make up to 12,000 face shields per day,” said Schwank.

Their first order of 150,000 shields will go to hospitals and first responders, and 5,000 have already shipped.

With face shields now being produced at the industrial scale, the U-M hospital has less need for community-made shields. Still, the connections with local makers could help U-M respond to future challenges.

“We built these collaborative, trusted pathways and the mechanisms for sharing the designs and putting them out there. I think those are probably the most important outcomes of the work we’ve done so far,” said Gordon.

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Kate McAlpine

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