When Brian Anderson ’14 was a student in Syracuse University’s biomedical engineering program, he worked at the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) Student Shop. This dedicated workspace allows engineering majors to turn their original designs into finished products using mills, 3D printers and computer numerical control machines. Anderson assisted workshop and project manager Tim Breen at peak times and off hours, helping other students turn their ideas into reality. The position helped Anderson get experience with a fast-paced production schedule. He learned how to creatively tackle open-ended problems and had autonomy in designing solutions.
Originally from Skaneateles, New York, Anderson began working at Tessy Plastics six years ago. As a research and development engineer, he works on many projects for Fortune 500 and 100 companies using the skills he learned at Syracuse University: designing, machining, assembling and testing prototypes. Typically, he builds and designs a small piece of much larger and more intricate projects. “Some of the work that I do is on an obscure part that no one's really ever going to know about,” says Anderson. But that’s changed with one of his latest projects, an order of 30,000 face shields for medical professionals in Onondaga County. “We’re so proud to see Brian’s contribution in the fight against COVID 19. This is a crisis where biomedical engineers are making a big difference, solving problems in the design and manufacturing of personal protective equipment, medical equipment, therapeutic interventions, and telemedicine,” says Julie M. Hasenwinkel, professor and chair of the biomedical and chemical engineering department at ECS. “I think this is a great example of how hands-on learning in ECS is preparing our students to be on the front lines, tackling the real-world engineering challenges of today and the future.”
I think this is a great example of how hands-on learning in ECS is preparing our students to be on the front lines, tackling the real-world engineering challenges of today and the future.
—Julie M. Hasenwinkel
The project began when Breen reached out to Anderson about a collaboration he was involved in with the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Architecture. Breen was using the Student Shop’s 3D printers to produce face shields in response to an urgent need for personal protective equipment for medical professionals in the Syracuse community. Breen contacted Anderson to see if Tessy’s high-volume manufacturing capacity could offer a better solution. “He knew that if we were able to get a mold going, we'd be able to do it a lot more quickly,” says Anderson.
Breen put Anderson in touch with School of Design director James Fathers, who was coordinating the 3D-printing effort in response to the needs of area crisis managers. Anderson decided to help. “There wasn't really a lot of structure around how people were solving the need,” he says. “I looked around, evaluated some options and tried to come up with the best solution.” He wanted a design that could be readily prototyped so medical professionals could get their hands on the shields quickly. “The process for figuring out how to get these things done was what we learned in school, and it carried over here. It's the same game plan we ran with here,” Anderson says.
The Syracuse University collaborators were producing 60-90 units per day using 3D-printed parts and thermoplastic. Anderson designed a shield that could be molded using only thermoplastic, which was heated and injected into the shape of the headband and visor. “The face shield is a supplied part that we get from one of our tray manufacturers. So it's just a clear sheet of plastic that's then stamped from a roll into the appropriate shape,” he says. This method can produce hundreds of shields per hour.
Once Anderson determined the best course of action, things went quickly. “It went from a concept to prototypes overnight,” he says. The next few days were spent refining prototypes and getting samples from suppliers for a shield. Fathers gave Tessy some design changes based on medical professionals’ requests. Anderson made the face shield longer and wider, and a week later Tessy was ready to move forward on a prototype tool. Once the prototype was in place, says Tessy’s director of sales, Josh Canfield, the firm’s commercial team got involved to get the shield into the community. Tessy reached out to the office of Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and worked with Deputy County Executive Brian Donnelly. Knowing that there was a direct need for this personal protective equipment, Tessy and Onondaga County partnered to order 30,000 face shields. The first 5,000 units shipped on April 6.
Canfield says he’s happy this alumni connection could put urgently needed equipment in the hands of medical professionals. “To have Syracuse alumni here at Tessy speaks to our community in Central New York, where everyone is working together when a crisis comes about,” he says. “And if you have that network of people that are that close-knit, it certainly benefits our community.” Anderson finds it rewarding to work on a project that has a visible and direct impact on the community. “Something like this is a feel-good project for everyone. We're able to do something and really make our presence known,” he says.
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