Harnessing creativity, technology and teamwork, Stony Brook’s iCREATE has stepped up to address a critical need in the current coronavirus crisis: the need for protective face shields.
“Anybody who’s been paying attention to the news understands that there’s a shortage of personal protective equipment for medical personnel,” said Charlie McMahon, Interim Senior Vice President of Information Technology and Enterprise CIO for Stony Brook University.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends full face shields for medical personnel to protect both themselves and their patients. During a meeting to discuss ways to support medical personnel during the COVID-19 crisis, Judith Greiman, Chief Deputy to the President and Senior Vice President for Government and Community Relations, mentioned an upstate New York company that was printing face shields on a 3D printer.
“She knew we had the iCREATE department here, and we have 3D printing capability,” said McMahon. “She showed me the article and asked, ‘Can we do this?’”
The answer to that challenge was “yes.” However, that didn’t mean the journey wouldn’t face hurdles.
“We’re trying to make face shields to help healthcare workers,” explained David Ecker, Director of iCREATE, an area within the Division of Information Technology with stakeholders in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences; College of Business; Integration of Research, Education and Professional Development Office; and Economic Development. “The challenge was figuring out how to use the 3D printers and the parts and materials that we had on hand to really go ahead and do this. So, what do we need to do?”
As Ecker soon discovered, what he needed to do first and foremost was get creative.
“We didn’t have all of the materials that we needed so we went to Home Depot and found some door insulation material,” he said. “That’s what we’re using for the forehead cushion. The plastic shield on the face mask is what you would typically use if you bound a folder for a presentation. It’s clear plastic. We had to go to Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store to get the elastic. We found other things we needed at Staples. So we’re improvising here, but in the end it’s going to be an excellent, viable product for our medical professionals.”
With materials now in-hand, Ecker and his team immediately went to work crafting prototypes.
“When David got back to me and said, ‘Yes, we can do that’ — and by the way, when he sent me that message he was already wearing a prototype — that was really pretty cool,” said McMahon.
When the pictures were passed around a follow-up meeting the next morning, a collective cheer went up.
“At that point we knew we were doing something positive, helping protect the health of the medical professionals that are helping the community,” he added. “Being able to be part of that is a really good feeling.”
The first step of the process is coming up with a design, which is then loaded into the 3D printers. The material is passed through, slowly building up to the finished product.
“Once the plastic parts are made, we attach the headband to fasten around the back of your head,” explained Ecker. “We then attach the foam pad and elastic.” The end result is a device that protects both medical staff and patients.
It takes about four hours for one machine to make one face shield; Stony Brook has 20 machines that can be applied to this project at any given time.
“We think we can make 40 masks or faces shields a day,” said McMahon. “We have enough material right now to make 800, and we are in the process of procuring enough material to make 5,000 more.”
“iCREATE provides these facilities and services for students and faculty to really develop the next big idea and offers ‘next level’ service and out-of-the-box thinking,” added Ecker. “It’s okay to fail, as long as you’re ‘failing forward’.”
And this creativity and “freedom to innovate,” said Ecker, is exactly what the iCREATE lab is all about.
“To be honest, I’m both excited and nervous at the same time,” admitted Ecker. “I’m nervous about being outside with what’s going on in New York State and the world, but I’m excited to make a difference and to give back, and if this is something Stony Brook can do to give back, it’s worth what we’re doing.”
— Robert Emproto