J.D. Mendez uses 3D printers to make face shields for Columbus Regional Hospital

April 9, 2020
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When IUPUC Assistant Professor of Chemistry J.D. Mendez purchased a 3D printer five years ago to create interactive educational models of atoms and molecules for use in his classroom, he had hoped at some point to construct a 3D printing lab on campus, but never imagined he would be running three printers for 24 hours a day in his garage to create protective face shields for Columbus Regional Hospital.

“I’m definitely busier than I thought I would be when our classes all moved online for the rest of the semester,” said Mendez. “But it’s nice to know that I can do something to help during this crisis.”

The idea to make the face shields came to Mendez when he heard that other divisions on the IUPUC campus were collecting PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to donate to local healthcare providers. He began looking online for inspiration and saw that a number of organizations were 3D printing equipment such as masks and ventilators. “A lot of the equipment being printed is too complex for me to create on our printers, so I found a template for a face shield that I knew I could replicate fairly quickly.”

Mendez then reached out to a contact at Columbus Regional Hospital to ask if they needed shields. They were. He went to campus and collected the printers and filament from the 3D printing and took them home. Then he went to work.

As with any project like this, it didn’t go perfectly the first time. Mendez went through a number of iterations until he was able to get the printer settings adjusted correctly for the materials and design. “The first version I printed hurt my head, and I thought ‘no one is going to want to wear this all day.’ I kept making adjustments, and finally hit on a sample that was comfortable.” The process took some time as each headband requires several hours to print.

Mendez printed several prototypes to show the hospital. They liked them and wanted more. He went home and began mass production. The 3D printers create the headband that holds the plastic shield, as well as a bottom piece that stabilizes it. Mendez used his creativity to come up with the shield itself. He folded a lamination sheet in half and ran it through a laminator to create a flexible plastic piece that doesn’t require any additional shaping to work. “These types of shields are made to be disposable, Mendez said. “Someone might use them for a day, but they aren’t really capable of being sterilized, so the plastic piece doesn’t need to hold up over time.”

The materials cost for the shields is only about $1.50 each, and Mendez is able to print parts for 24 fully-assembled shields each day. He plans to deliver the first 100 shields to Columbus Regional Hospital this week and continue to deliver shields as long as they need them (or until the printers give out, whichever comes first).

IUPUC’s Vice Chancellor and Dean, Reinhold Hill, was impressed but not surprised by Mendez’s ingenuity and commitment to the community. “J.D. proves that a university’s value isn’t just in the number of graduates it produces, but rather in the way it becomes an integral part of the community it serves.”