(WJHL) — Many Tennessee colleges and universities are playing a major role in the COVID-19 pandemic by manufacturing face shields to protect health professionals across the nation.
The race is on to provide medical professionals across the country the gear they need to safely combat the virus.
“This is very important. In order for us to defeat the virus, we have to keep our medical industry safe. We have to keep all of our medical technicians safe, our doctors, our nurses,” John Lee said.
John Lee is the industry training coordinator for TCAT Elizabethton. He is leading a project with four other members to produce 3D headbands that will attach to a plastic face shield.
The team has been working around the clock since last week, to produce 120 of these bands a day, and ship them every Tuesday. Each team member has two printers that prints two masks each, about every three hours.
“We are running 24/7,” Lee told Pheben Kassahun. “Yesterday, we sent out 150. We sent those to Knoxville to be shipped out to the areas that are in the highest need.”
They are also working from home.
“Rings under my eyes may show for the lack of sleep, just a little bit,” Lee joked. “I set an alarm clock on my cellphone every three hours. My wife sets an alarm clock on her phone every three hours to make sure that I get up and switch everything out and to keep everything running.”
The face shields are to be worn over the N95 face masks. It is being used as a second layer of protection over the T-zone of your face.
“The concern with the coronavirus is the droplets. You don’t want someone to actually sneeze or cough or get in the T-zone, which are our eyes, our nose and our mouths. We want to make sure that we keep things… our hands away from that, but also any kind of particles or anything that may spew into the air,” Lee explained.
The headbands are being sent to Austin Peay State University, which THEC says originated the prototype and where the headbands will be attached to transparent plastic face shields, according to a press release from TCAT.
“The print head heats up and melts that filament, if you will. You load your design into the printer. As the printhead moves around, it heats that plastic up,” Lee said. “As the head rotates around that plastic is then built up into the component or shape that you desire or that you’ve loaded you’ve loaded into the machine.”
The biggest issue those who are printing the masks are facing is running low on supplies. Lee asks that anyone who wishes to help with the process as is asked to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are looking for 1.75mm PLA 3D Printer Filament, which is similar to what can be seen here.
ETSU and other community partners are also creating their own set of face shields for the Tri-Cities. Once production begins, they plan to create 200 a day.
Dr. Keith Johnson said, “We’re going to take care of this region first, with all of our production and then we’ll work our way back to Nashville.”
Dr. Keith Johnson, Ph.D. is the chair of the Department of Engineering, Engineering Technology and Surveying at ETSU. Dr. Johnson said his team are working five at a time, around the clock, to ensure social distancing, at ETSU’s guitar-building lab.
“As production goes up, we will get more. Right now, because of the amount of the material that we had, we thought five would be enough, but we are capable of ramping up and using as much materials as we need,” Dr. Johnon said, “A very special medical grade plastic that we have here, that can be cleaned. It has components that you can get from a general hardware store.”
He added that his team is looking for other ways to help.
Dr. Johnson said, “This mask was kind of the call to action for me. This was, you know we can do this. We have a lot of experience with this. We see the need so great that there is a team that we have in place right now looking at designing respirators.”
Although students are taking classes remotely for the remainder of the spring semester, they are focusing on ways to produce and assemble personal protective equipment in an educational lab setting. One class has been assigned to create a mold that would bend the plastic shield to contour around the face, according to a press release from ETSU.
Northeast State’s Regional Center of Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) Academy, in Kingsport, has also joined to produce face shields for health care professionals in the state of Tennessee.
RCAM is also working with STREAMWORKS.
“Two weeks ago I never would have envisioned we would be making medical face shields,” said Dennis Courtney in a press release. “But here we are producing 24 hours a day trying to get as many out there as we can.”
Dennis Courtney is the executive director of STREAMWORKS Education. RCAM states Courtney received the call on Saturday to convert his STEM Gym teaching lab into a medical supply manufacturer. Once the RCAM printers were set up, the headgear and shields manufacturing went live, according to a press release from RCAM.
Keith Bowery is an instructor at Northeast State, according to a press release from RCAM, and he is one of many industry professionals who brought his knowledge to the college following a diverse career in industrial manufacturing.
“We are going to make as many as we can as fast as we can,” said Keith Bowery. “I’m going to keep them until they tell me to quit, or I run out of material.”