Alumni, Faculty and Staff 3D-Print a Response to COVID-19

Syracuse University schools and colleges are collaborating to print face shields that will protect health-care workers responding to community needs.

On March 17, Lynn Greenky, an assistant teaching professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ (VPA) Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies, reached out to a few of her colleagues. Greenky saw a local news story about a Central New York firm that has made 3D-printing plans for a face shield available on its website. Budmen Industries, operated by Syracuse alumnus Isaac Budmen ’12, has offered a template and instructions to produce the shields, which provide crucial protection for health-care workers responding to COVID-19 cases.

Greenky asked if Syracuse University’s 3D-printing facilities could be put to work helping to produce the shields, and VPA School of Design director James Fathers immediately saw potential in the idea. On March 18, Fathers sent an email to Chris Prior, the director of fabrication shops for VPA, who routinely works with 3D printers while assisting with design. “As an industrial designer, I knew he could do this,” says Fathers. “And it flowed from there.”

Prior’s shop isn’t usually tasked with mass production at this scale, but he is quickly adjusting to the demand. “It gets busy, but I’ve never done anything like this in terms of a specific heavy production other than student projects.” Unlike the usual student projects he helps produce, however, these face shields are standardized. “This is nice because we can figure out ways to be efficient and streamlined.”

3D printers in motion
Syracuse University’s 3-D printers are capable of producing 60-90 face shields per day. “The whole supply chain is really coming together as we speak,” says School of Architecture fabrication manager Michael Giannattasio ’12.

After looking over the plans, Prior found that one important material was already on hand and ready to be repurposed for face masks: The clear plastic that forms the shield is a material VPA commonly uses for thermoforming. Prior purchased foam stripping that gets glued to the inside of the shield’s visor, and the fashion design program provided him with 250 yards of elastic for the headband. “Our focus on students having hands-on learning experiences puts us in a unique position to contribute in a meaningful way,” says VPA’s dean, Michael Tick. “I applaud the collaborative efforts of our faculty and staff who, along with our campus colleagues, have come together to help support and protect our health care workers.”

Across campus at the School of Architecture, Dean Michael Speaks heard about this initiative and contacted VPA. “We have digital design and production facilities, including 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC milling machines,” says Speaks. “So we can do a lot of different kinds of fabrication.” Speaks asked his fabrication manager, Michael Giannattasio ’12, to reach out to Prior and find out how they could help. “Dean Speaks and I have been talking since Budmen’s shield was released and have been going back and forth about how to implement this,” says Giannattasio.  “I've always had an interest in prototyping and 3D printing.”

Prior and Giannattasio have been friends for a long time, and their connection helped iron out the specifics, even with Syracuse University’s shift to working remotely. “Once this took off in terms of emails, we were on the phone over the weekend figuring out how to make this work,” says Prior. “I love working with Mike.”

Tim Breen works on 3D printers
Tim Breen, workshop and project manager at the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), supervises the parts being printed in the ECS 3D-printing facilities on March 24, 2020. The first batch of face shields were scheduled to be delivered March 26.

Prior and Giannattasio also enlisted Tim Breen, workshop and project manager at the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), who was eager and ready to help. ECS’s dean, J. Cole Smith, is glad ECS can help the effort to provide more essential medical supplies. “This is a great interdisciplinary project, and we’re fortunate to have such outstanding facilities and partners here on the Syracuse University campus that can join together to make a difference.”

Each school has an important role to play. Pieces of the face shield are printed at the School of Architecture and ECS, and then brought to VPA’s production facilities for assembly. VPA also has the advantage of easy access to a loading dock. Giannattasio says that based on their preliminary projections, this initiative can produce anywhere from 60 to 90 face shields per day.

Fathers says the face shields will be distributed to local hospitals through Syracuse Orthopedic Surgeons, with the first batch arriving in the hands of emergency managers on March 26. The fact that this manufacturing and supply chain grew over a weekend isn’t a surprise to Fathers. As one of the original collaborators to bring Invent@SU to campus, Fathers says he’s collaborated extensively with engineering and architecture faculty. “And I know a lot of technical staff have also worked closely together because they solve problems every day. This is a long-standing collaboration that we just leveraged for this important community need.”

Along with schools and colleges, Fathers has activated another powerful ally in the response to COVID-19: the Orange Alumni Network. “Because we've got lots of contacts in industry, we're now talking to an alumni contact at a company called Tessy Plastics,” says Fathers. In the event of a worst-case scenario, Tessy would be able to produce exponentially more component parts every hour. “They're still looking at designs, but we're trying to leverage our Alumni to work out how we can help, not just keep it in-house. The Syracuse community is pretty special.”

“Everybody is interested in figuring out ways to help and I think that we're all very lucky to have the facilities and the know-how to do what we can to help,” says Prior. “I'm just grateful to be in a position where I can help.”

Brandon Dyer

This story was first published on March 26, 2020 and last updated on .


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