STEM teachers step up to make masks, face shields using 3D printers

Finding new ways to help others during school closure

In light of the nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, teachers from Kenowa Hills, Grandville, Rockford and Wyoming public school districts have jumped all in. Hospitals and medical personnel from West Michigan to Lansing to Detroit are reaping the benefits.

Ed Beickman and Steve Feutz lead a team of six Kenowa Hills STEM teachers making several types of PPE by using the district’s 30 3D printers in their homes. Besides being given to individuals and organizations in need, the plans are also given to others with 3D printers.

‘It is good to channel our desire to help into something that could have an immediate and tangible impact.’

— Steve Feutz, Kenowa Hills STEM teacher

Beickman said they’ve been working for a couple weeks to print prototypes of different styles and versions they found online.

“Some we liked, some we did not, some we modified,” said Beickman, who teaches computer science and engineering at Kenowa Hills High School. “When we started researching who needed this type of equipment, we found that certain organizations were only accepting certain items. The two most common we found were face shields and face masks.  

“Once we figured out there was a need and that we could help, we started printing prototypes, adjusting the printers as needed to get the best output.”

Currently, Beickman said they see a greater need for face shields, the most common being Verkstan and Prusa shields. Both designs use transparency sheets that can be bought from office supply stores.

They’re supplying Verkstan shields to an organization called #3Dc19, which is distributing them to hospitals and health care facilities around West Michigan and beyond.

“We are trying to ramp up that production as quickly as possible,” he explained, adding he hopes to print around 80 face shields a day.

Kenowa Hills Middle School STEM and science teacher Katie Bush is modeling a face shield produced by the STEM teachers using 3D printers for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic (courtesy photo)

Using Handy Materials

Beickman said they also are printing a Prusa face shield design that can be made with a typical 3-hole punch for home or office.

“We felt this was a great design for the smaller companies or anyone wanting a face shield that we can supply locally as well. In both cases, after using it you can throw out the transparency sheet, sanitize and reuse the frame again.”

Beickman said printing of the Montana Mask, which they were producing daily, has been put on hold because Flow-Rite Controls of Byron Center is preparing to run high volume production of it.

The 3Dc19 items have been distributed to Bronson Hospital (Kalamazoo/Battle Creek), Beacon Health System (South Bend), Ascension Hospital (East Michigan) and Detroit Community Healthcare, to name a few. Retirement, hospice and smaller healthcare providers also have requested supplies, Beickman said.

Some of the personal protective equipment devices that STEM teachers are producing for health care workers (courtesy photo)

Students Able to Help

“We know our students would really like to be involved in something like this,” said Feutz, a STEM Academy teacher. “They love to 3D-print things, and knowing they can make a difference would definitely be a motivation for them.

“We have had several individuals sign up to help using their own personal 3D printers as well. The more people that sign up to help us print, the larger our impact will be,” Feutz said, adding they can print 50 to 60 face masks per day.

“Since our teaching duties are reduced right now, we are missing some of the purpose that we normally have every day,” he added. “It is good to channel our desire to help into something that could have an immediate and tangible impact.”

For more information on how to join their effort or request supplies, go to Kenowa Hills PPE Production.

A Prusa face shield that the Kenowa Hills STEM team is making with 3D printers (courtesy photo)

Teachers Team Up Across Districts

Meanwhile, Darrin Batdorff, a STEM teacher at Grandville Middle School, heard from Matt Starguardt, a friend and teacher at North Rockford Middle School, about the chance to 3D-print safety masks for Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. Now the pair have plans to make around 100 masks for donation.

“As a teacher, we are used to helping others,” Batdorff said. “At this time, many of us are at a loss when we don’t get to see our students. This is just one of the small ways I can help.”

After the 3D masks are completed, they will be sanded and straps and a filter added by tinkrLAB, which preps masks for hospital use, Batdorff said. In addition to the 100 masks, the team plans to make between 100 and 500 brackets for visors and shields.

He said he has always been amazed at the ways school staff and administration have been able to find ways to support the community.

“I am honored by the attention I have received for doing this, but I am doing such a small part,” Batdorff said. “As a teacher, I have some luxuries others do not. There are a lot of people hurting right now, and I hope there are other ways we can help meet the needs of those who are struggling severely at this time.”

‘Ear Savers’ Needed Too 

At Wyoming Intermediate School, instructional coach Heather Robotham and sixth grade teacher Todd Coe, who runs the school’s 3D Printing Club, are making face shields and ear savers — which hold the elastics on surgical masks off the ears). They’ve already donated hundreds of items to various medical facilities and individuals.  

“I have printed and donated 92 shields and 50 ear savers,” Robotham said. “I started with two school printers running the shields and my personal printer running the ear savers. Yesterday I picked up three more school printers because the need has ramped up and we keep getting people asking for more. Todd has printed 300 face shields and 800 ear savers. He’s been running six printers since we started.”

After receiving items, an emergency room nurse responded that they “were snatched up like gold” and asked for more, Robotham said.

Items have gone to the Ascension Borgess Hospital ER, in Kalamazoo; to two nurses heading to New York City and Detroit; and to West Michigan Sign Language Interpreters, who are working in hospitals. They’ve also mailed items to the MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena and delivered shields to city of Wyoming first responders. Other donation recipients include Thornapple Township Fire and Emergency Services, Pennock Hospital, Wyoming Police Department and Thornapple Manor.

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Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more. Read Cris's full bio or email Cris.

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