Businesses, Community Partners Make Face Shields Using Design from Ann Arbor’s U-M

Michigan Medicine and the U-M College of Engineering, both of Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan, have created a face shield design that the institutions say sets a standard of quality for 3-D printing of the gear for health care workers. Face shields can extend the life of virus-filtering N95 masks, which are in short supply.
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headbands for face shields
U-M has created a face shield design that is used by industrial and community partners to manufacture the gear. // Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

Michigan Medicine and the U-M College of Engineering, both of Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan, have created a face shield design that the institutions say sets a standard of quality for 3-D printing of the gear for health care workers. Face shields can extend the life of virus-filtering N95 masks, which are in short supply.

The design is a modification of one released by the Czech 3-D printing company Prusa, which had collaborated with the Czech ministry of health to set the specifications.

“The DIY community was trying to optimize for speed and simplicity, and many had coalesced around the Prusa design,” says Drew Bennett, a member of the rapid reaction team and the associate director of licensing, software, mobile, and digital technologies at U-M Tech Transfer.

The face shield efforts include U-M students, alumni, staff, and faculty. Maker Works, Operation Face Shield, and Protect-MI collaborated to set up supply and distribution networks starting the week of March 23. They created drop points (pickle barrels partly filled with bleach solution) for 3-D printed headbands and cut-out shields.

Both Operation Face Shield and Maker Works assemble the shields and route them to donation sites such as hospitals, care homes, and homeless shelters. Maker Works has also manufactured thousands of face shields made with a laser-cutting method.

“It’s been amazing to see how many people have these printers at home. Just in Ann Arbor, there are more than 100 printers going 24/7,” says Brian Iezzi, a Ph.D. student in materials science and engineering.

On March 31, it was believed that local makers had a capacity for about 1,000 shields per week. However, since then, Operation Face Shield has grown to more than 1,000 members with offshoots starting in Grand Rapids and Traverse City. They have now delivered more than 10,000 face shields, sending some donations to other hard-hit areas such as New Jersey and Indiana.

The leadership of the multidisciplinary face shield design and logistics team at U-M comprised Bennett; Nick Cucinelli, CEO of U-M spinout Endectra and a leadership instructor at the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship; and Deborah Rooney, director of education and research at Michigan Medicine’s Clinical Simulation Center and associate professor of learning health sciences at Michigan Medicine.

Three heads of student maker spaces joined them – Justin Schell, head of the Shapiro Design Lab at the Shapiro Undergraduate library; Shawn O’Grady, who manages the Duderstadt Center’s fabrication studio; and Chris Gordon, director of the Wilson Student Team Project Center on U-M’s North Campus – exploring a range of popular modifications and drafting recommendations. The team’s liaison at the hospital, William Roberts, a professor of urology and of biomedical engineering, approved the design.

Michigan Medicine shared the design via its call for donations of personal protective gear of all kinds. The U-M medical center has been collecting the equipment from the community since March 21 at a loading dock at the North Campus Research Complex. Some of the 3-D-printed face shields donated by companies and community makers have already been put into clinical use at U-M’s hospitals.

As the specifications were being finalized, Cucinelli also worked with Maker Works to coordinate the flow of raw materials, assembly sterilization, and delivery of face shields to the U-M drop-off donation site. Once the system was in place on March 29, Schell took over daily coordination with both Operation Face Shield and Maker Works.

“Our mission, at the time, was filling the gap to the best of our ability until the large donations and orders started coming in, which looked to be at least 10 days away,” Schell says.

Bennett helped arrange the large donations from companies including Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Steelcase, Toyota, DiDi, and more. Other businesses have shifted to making personal protective equipment, serving the medical community and keeping employees on payroll.

Among the business-sector mass production efforts is Akervall Technologies, which usually makes mouthguards. Johannes Schwank, the James and Judith Street Professor of Chemical Engineering at U-M, is the chief scientific officer at Akervall. He credits the leadership team, which includes a medical doctor for St. Joseph Mercy Health System, for the quick pivot.

Schwank has adult children at home who do essential work, so he has been unable to set foot on the manufacturing floor for fear of being a COVID-19 carrier. He has offered advice from the basement of his house as his company turned its plant to manufacturing a face shield design according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements, following workplace guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company has the capacity to ramp up and make up to 12,000 face shields per day.

The first order of 150,000 shields will go to hospitals and first responders, and 5,000 have already shipped.

With face shields now produced at an industrial scale, the U-M hospital has less need for community-made shields. However, the connections with local makers could help U-M respond to future challenges.

“We built these collaborative, trusted pathways and the mechanisms for sharing the designs and putting them out there,” Gordon says. “I think those are probably the most important outcomes of the work we’ve done so far.”

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