UW students are 3D printing surgical masks to help with national shortage

WYOMING – With the nationwide spread of the coronavirus over the last several weeks, medical supplies have become dangerously low, especially the demand for medical masks used by professionals to guard against the spread and protect against the virus.

Wyoming is not immune from COVID-19, with the number of confirmed cases increasing significantly in recent days. Already, some medical facilities in the state are facing medical supply shortages.

One of those facilities is Cheyenne Regional Medical Center (CRMC), whose medical workers reached out to Tyler Kerr for assistance and have requested at least 100 protective masks and 100 face shields.

Tyler Kerr — the UW makerspace coordinator in the Student Innovation Center (SIC), located in the new Engineering Education and Research Building — and his team are stepping up to the plate to help. They are producing 200 masks in this first round — 100 surgical facemasks by Monday, immediately followed by 100 face shields in the days following the first delivery.

All will be produced through the SIC’s 3D printers and laser cutters.

“We have been provided a unique opportunity to lend our equipment, resources and expertise to help stem the tide, flatten the curve and prevent spread of the virus, however the medical community asks us to,” Kerr says. “How often in our lives can we say that we have $1.4 million in state-of-the-art equipment made almost exactly for rapid prototyping purposes such as these? To do nothing with these resources was never really an option. This was our call to arms.”

A UW student shows the type of surgical masks they are 3D printing. Photo: University of Wyoming

To date, Kerr and his team have only made a few prototypes of a number of different facemasks and face shield designs to showcase to different health professionals. However, that changes this weekend when official production kicks off and runs around the clock to get the surgical masks and face shields sent to Cheyenne.

Health care facilities nationwide are facing severe shortages of personal protective equipment, says Dr. Jeff Chapman, CRMC chief medical officer.

“The biggest hurdle we are facing in health care facilities in the nation is shortages of personal protective equipment — specifically masks and face shields. As we look into the unknown of how long this pandemic will last or how many patients we could potentially have, we want to make sure we are as equipped and prepared as possible,” Chapman says. “It is a blessing that our community is able and willing to help out. We are especially grateful to the University of Wyoming for fulfilling this request, not only Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, but for other hospitals around the state.”

This is the first batch of masks Kerr and his team have produced, with more to come. The UW team is not charging any of the hospitals in the area for material or use of the machines.

It takes approximately four hours to print one mask, Kerr says. He adds that his team is printing two masks — and two filter cartridges — per machine, hoping to squeeze three masks in to a build plate, which would take a cumulative 12 hours.

“We recognized that we could serve an important role to help produce custom parts or protective equipment locally, safely and efficiently in order to get crucial equipment in the hands of medical professionals rapidly during critical shortages,” Kerr says. “This was not our idea, but one that seemed to be borne out of the maker movement nationwide. We simply started paying attention to what others were doing, how other emergent tech centers were answering the call. It certainly feels like our duty to help however we can. There really wasn’t ever another option to sit idly by.”

Kerr says all the credit should go to Berg and the mask’s designers, Spencer Zaugg and Family Dentistry in Billings, Mont., for getting the project into the SIC team’s hands.

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