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COVID-19 Sparks Interest in 3D Printing

UWF Sea3D Lab

About two weeks after beginning to manufacture some personal protective equipment, or PPE, items at the University of West Florida, the project is getting a boost.

UWF’s Sea3D Lab began making face shields for doctors, nurses and first responders treating COVID-19 patients earlier this month. As of Thursday, the lab had filled 1,000 orders for the devices according to Nicole Gislason, who oversees the project for the school’s Small Business Development Center.

“Those have gone primarily to Ascension Sacred Heart; Baptist Hospital, and other healthcare facilities around the region,” said Gislason. “The only request that we’ve filled to date that has gone outside the region is to the Randall-Malcolm VA Hospital in Gainesville.”

Other requests are coming in from South Florida, including the city of Miami. Gislason says their Memorandums of Understanding [MOUs] are pending, and some shields could be sent there if they’re approved.

“Given our current resources, I think we can go for another four weeks or so,” Gislason said. “Beyond that, we’ll have to identify some additional financial resources or donations of material. Hopefully, the virus will subside and within four weeks we won’t have the need for these face shields.”

For this project, the Sea3D Lab is also getting a little help from its friends.

“Baptist Healthcare – not only are they a recipient – they’re also donating polyester lenses that they cut, and bags for our kits,” said Gislason. “Jupiter Bach, they too are utilizing their manufacturing capacity to cut the polyester lenses. And the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition is printing many of the visors.”

But after two weeks of production, materials are beginning to run very low. That’s where Stan Harper stepped in.

“There’s a lot of companies that jumped in to help out; Johnson & Johnson, 3M, a lot of contract manufacturers that jumped out – that’s what they do,” said Harper, who does contract work and tech consulting from his office in Milton. He works with companies such as Jabil, a St. Petersburg-based firm that handles design, manufacturing, supply chain and product management services.

“I knew they made health care products too,” Harper said. “Two years ago, they opened up a research center to come up with better 3D printing materials. I sent that to UWF and said ‘have you heard of this? This might be something ya’ll might want to experiment with.’”

Harper received a thumbs-up from Gislason about the new material from Jabil.

“I reached out to some of my contacts at Jabil and he said ‘I probably can furnish you with 20 to 30 reels of filament; and I can also send you some samples of our new material we just got certified.’”

“Stan Harper was so kind to connect us with [Jabil]; they’ve offered 22 units of the filament that could be utilized for face shield production,” said Gislason. “We’re testing their specific filament now.”

When the project began, the thinking was that it could open the door for other opportunities for the lab, and for UWF as a whole. Nicole Gislason says it’s already created greater interest in 3D printing — aka “additive manufacturing.”

“I do see greater opportunities for our students to align with industry on ways to harness this technology moving forward,” Gislason said. “[But] this sad outbreak of COVID-19 has a silver lining, in that now we have deeper relationships with the health care community. And I think that moving ahead, we’ll be able to assist them should something like this ever come up again.”

Oh, by the way, the students working on the manufacture of the face shields? They’re also moving closer to graduation.

“Their faculty members are providing extra credit if they’re assisting with post-processing or some of the printing,” said Gislason. “They do this by and large at their own homes, so we’re grateful for their help.”

More information about the project and the UWF Sea3D Lab is at www.uwf.edu/sea3d.