By: Ahmad Graves-El
During the global health crisis we are currently living in, the creativity and ingenuity of human beings has been on full display — and it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
As concerns for the health and well-being of citizens all across the world continue to rise, a bright light is beginning to shine on our brave healthcare workers and first responders. Healthcare practitioners and first responders are on the frontlines of what some have called a “war against an invisible enemy,” while they supply medical care to those who are suffering from the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 virus. However, there are many challenges these professionals are facing in their attempts to heal the sick, including having to deal with a shortage of essential safety wear used to protect the patients, as well as themselves.
One of the items in short supply for healthcare workers is the N95 mask, which according to fda.gov, is an “example of personal protective equipment … used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face.”
Desperate times call for innovative measures, and several weeks ago, Rowan University came up with an inventive way to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to first responders and healthcare practitioners. In a collaboration with Inspira Health and others, the Rowan University Engineering Department came up with the idea of creating 3D-printed masks to help those caring for people suffering with COVID-19.
According to an article published on today.rowan.edu, “While it’s not the N95 mask recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 3D-printed mask can be washed, disinfected and reused multiple times, a feature desperately needed while disposable masks are in short supply.”
During normal times, healthcare professionals would discard their N95 masks immediately after meeting with a patient.
So, for them to be able to use a 3D-printed mask multiple times is a game-changer while there’s a worldwide shortage of this protective item.
Rowan University placed a link on their site, to be used by the general public in making 3D-printed masks. Those files give formal instructions on how to create these essential pieces of PPE.
Officials at Millville Public Schools found out about Rowan’s efforts and determined that they had the tools to manufacture their own 3D-printed masks.
“One of my supervisors, Bobby Barber, contacted me and asked if there was anything we could do to help with our 3D printers that we have,” says Gerald Bruman, Millville High School engineering teacher.
“After looking into it, I learned that Rowan Engineering was working with Inspira [Health] to design an emergency-use mask.”
After this discovery — and with the backing of Dr. Shelly Schneider, superintendent of Millville Public Schools, and Stephanie DeRose, principal of Millville High School — Bruman went to work.
“I brought home my 15 3D printers and supply of filament,” says Bruman. “I also brought home supplies to build other 3D printers and some 3D printers that were currently being built by one of my engineering classes.”
“After careful planning, and a lot of moving of equipment, [a] mobile lab was created,” DeRose says in a press release. “By using the Millville Public Schools STEM trailer along with printers from the high school, several printers could be set up to begin production.”
That STEM trailer has currently taken up residence in Bruman’s backyard. “We are having donated items, like filament and parts for the printers, shipped here as well.”
DeRose is appreciative of the engineering teacher’s attempts to assist.
“Mr. Bruman is a dedicated teacher that is looking to help the community any way that he can,” she says.
As the saying goes, “It takes a village,” and Bruman lets it be known that he did not take on this challenging task by himself. He credits Millville High School robotics teacher Shawn Jenkins, and students David and Calvin Choo for assisting him during the process of 3D-printed mask-making.
“[They] are all building more 3D printers at their homes to help us increase our capacity,” Bruman says.
Bruman also gave a shout-out to his wife, Yvonne. “She has put in many hours of work in this endeavor helping in any way she can.”
The engineering teacher and his team are not only making 3D-printed masks for our front-line healthcare workers, but they’re also crafting “ear savers.”
“Ear savers are straps to hook the elastic bands of paper masks to instead of the wearers’ ears,” Bruman said. “We have heard stories of nurses’ ears being worn raw from wearing masks.”
Bruman says that depending on the size, the process for creating each item takes about two to six hours. Bruman praises his administrators and supervisors for assisting with donation requests and distribution of the masks.
“We have already donated 100 masks and 40 ear savers to Inspira,” Bruman said. “We are looking for other organizations that are in need of emergency-use masks until the regular supply is restored. We would really like to help our local healthcare workers and first responders.”
For more information on the 3D-printed masks and to learn how you may assist in the making of this vital PPE, visit engineering.rowan.edu or consider donating 3D printing supplies to Bruman and his team.