UWF Joins Fight Against COVID-19
As health care workers nationwide scramble to find protective gear to treat COVID-19 patients, a program at the University of West Florida is pitching in.
UWF’s Sea3D Lab in downtown Pensacola is using its 3D printers to produce face gear.
“Specifically, visors that go around the head; one of our manufacturing partners – Jupiter-Bach – is cutting the actual lens that fits onto the shield that we’re 3-D printing,” said Nicole Gislason at UWF’s Haas Business Center.
She adds that they’re benefitting from thousands of inventors across the world sharing their ideas on how to fight the pandemic. The end design of the shield to the printed comes from UWF team members, but it’s a larger team effort.
“These are innovators from multiple departments at UWF, including nursing; engineering, art and the library,” said Gislason. “Our key designers worked alongside professionals from regional hospitals, Escambia County Emergency Management, Jupiter Bach – even GE Renewable Energy and Alto Products Corporation.”
Production began this week and the first of the kits – which are free of charge – are due out next Tuesday afternoon at 4:00. Customers are asked first to go online to www.uwf.edu/sea3d.
“You’re find a form there; fill that out and let us know how many kits you need and who you’re with so we can prioritize the distribution of these,” said Gislason. “We’ll hand them out, we’ll provide curbside service if the individuals are available right at 4:00.”
And just what is in “the kit?”
“When the visor is paired with a clear polyester lens, the 3-D printed visor provides the user with a physical barrier covering eyes, nose, and mouth,” Gislason said. “They’ll get a copy of the instructions; we want them to know how to sanitize the product as well as assemble it. We want them to be able to reuse these and sanitize these as often as they need to.”
The production team will print the visors on demand, for distribution over the next three months at the Sea3D lab.
“We have the capacity to produce about 3,000 units; right now we’re preparing to produce half that amount,” Gislason said. “But we will have the capacity to double that, if the need arises.”
“Part of our mission statement says we’re here to serve the professions and society; and I can’t think of any better way of service to society than to keep us safe,” said UWF President Martha Saunders, who calls the fight against COVID-19 a “critical mission.”
She was asked about the school’s part in that mission, and if this kind of work by the lab had even been anticipated.
“We’re certainly part of this community and anything we can do to contribute, is what we need to be doing,” Saunders said. “We certainly have found a place in helping to create parts for larger equipment and manufacturers, but we didn’t see this one coming. I’m just glad we were here.”
The printing of the facial protectors, says Saunders, is indicative of their ability to roll with the changes that a new situation presents.
“One of the things I think is a real hallmark of UWF is our agility,” said Saunders. “We’re certainly a spirited community of learners, but that spirit means that when challenges arise, we’re very, very quick to rise to them.”
And in case another disease outbreak or similar emergency occurs, the lab’s practice of “additive manufacturing,” says the Haas Center’s Nicole Gislason, is ideal for working on prototypes very quickly, and producing stuff very quickly.
“Because we have the capacity to design it and customize it on the fly,” Gislason said. “Additive manufacturing can be used to aid in a variety of crises; on the ground or at sea, additive manufacturing can really make a difference when you’re pressed for time.”
The lab’s work on the protective gear, says UWF President Martha Saunders, could lead to more work inside the health care industry. That would fit, she says, with the lab’s expansion already underway.
“Because the demand has been pretty high; and so I think that once the industry sees what we can do, there may be some real opportunities there,” said Saunders. “We have good equipment and if people inquire of what we can do, we’re more than willing to give it a try.”