MSU is 3D-printing face shields in response to COVID-19 crisis

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3D-printed face shields created in part by using a Prusa i3-MK3S 3D printer. Spartans are collaborating across colleges to help local health professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.

EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Michigan State University is 3D-printing personal protective equipment for local health professionals.

“This all stems from the Office of Environmental Health and Safety effort to bring together any and all PPE supplies that were unused in our labs to help out local hospitals,” said Nathan Tykocki, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, referring to an email from the MSU office that protects occupational health. “One of the things that was in the email included N95 masks, normal or 3D-printed. I went, ‘Oh, well that’s interesting.’”

Tykocki learned that while N95 masks can be 3D-printed, they still require a filter component, and their usefulness is not entirely clear. After searching the 3D-printing community online, Tykocki discovered a group in the Czech Republic that made a medical face shield validated by its government.

Now, MSU medical face shields are being produced in a joint effort with colleges across MSU’s campus.

“I just started emailing,” Tykocki said. “Brian Smith of EHS put me in contact with other professors and technicians from a myriad of different colleges and departments. I put the suggestion out there that we should do these shields. The nice thing is these shields are reusable — the plastic can be disinfected without harming it in any way — so the shields are by no means a ‘one and done.’”

While the frame of the medical shields can be created with a 3D printer, they still require other components, including the clear plastic shield itself. Aaron Walworth, laboratory manager in the School of Packaging, had just the thing: a laser cutter to make the clear plastic pieces.

“The pace at which we can cut out the plastic shielding far exceeds that of printing the headband it attaches to,” Walworth said. “It takes less than one minute to cut the shield, compared to several hours to print the headband. I’m currently able to lay out 12 shields to cut at a time on our CAD cutting table.”

Walworth said he was able to cut 132 shields in a matter of hours one afternoon, and others on the team with laser cutters are purchasing more of the appropriate plastic sheeting used to make the shields.

A final and crucial component needed for medical face shields is the elastic strap. Enter the Department of Theatre in the College of Arts and Letters. When Tykocki shared the need with his wife, Abigail Tykocki, theatre communications specialist in the college, she suggested reaching out to the MSU Costume Shop for the material.

“We had a ton of elastic, because we buy stock to keep for whenever we need it,” said Angie Wendelberger, the costume shop supervisor. “I had four industrial rolls of elastic just hanging there that no one really could use, so we talked to our chair, Kirk Domer, to see if it was okay to use it. He said it was a good project and we should be collaborative, so he gave us the go ahead.”

According to Tykocki, his consumer-grade 3D printer is capable of making 10 frames a day. To increase that rate, Brian Wright and John Papapolymerou of the College of Engineering have coordinated with Tykocki to use their 3D printers for creating the frames. Tykocki also heard from the MSU Library, where someone suggested using the clear plastic covers for binders as one of the materials. “Every person that has come on board has gotten us to almost exponential growth,” he said.

As the shield components are produced, the team members are careful to keep the pieces clean and disinfected. The team is now working out supply chain logistics to assemble the various pieces of the masks and get them to the health care providers who need them.

The group’s design has been shared publicly online, providing guidance to people around the world looking to help.

“In this crisis situation, all of these people are sitting here talking with me from their living rooms to their dining rooms, doing this together from different colleges,” Tykocki said. “This really shows me that collaboration is not limited at all to research. It expands to every aspect of the university, and the willingness of people to work together to help when it’s needed. This is a true example of Spartans Will. This is not just our tagline; at the moment, it is the true statement of what sort of community we have.”

Nathan Tykocki, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, modeling a 3D-printed face shield in his living room. Tykocki organized a group of Spartans across colleges to make masks to help health professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.

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