When AdventHealth predicted it was going to need additional face shields for members of its medical staff treating coronavirus patients, it turned to Florida Polytechnic University for help. That was three weeks ago. Now, students and staff are using 3D printers to make headbands for 4,000 shields.

After working out details like a memorandum of understanding and approval to use a certain product, Dr. Matt Bohm, director of industry engagement and capstone projects at Florida Poly, started production — all at a time when the university had virtually shut down.

“We had to figure out how to do it safely,” Bohm said. “Now, we have a sense of full buy-in from everyone at the university. We are able to buy replacement parts and spend some money to increase capacity.”

Two student technicians and two student interns are working with three to four lab techs to manufacture the headbands. They started using 20 3D printers and are now up to about 30. As the university receives new parts and cannibalizes parts from unusable printers, it hopes to get five more operational.

Now, they need more hands-on-deck to do the work, especially sterilizing the parts. Bohm said he sent an email to students who live nearby seeking volunteers. He also asked capstone students who live near the university and have 3D printers if they would help; four or five people volunteered. Details on how to move materials and finished products are being worked out.

“We’re in full-swing operating mode,” he said.

The headbands will be assembled with the rest of the materials for the face shields at AdventHealth’s Nicholson Center in Celebration.

Bohm and his team are happy to be part of a university team providing personal protective equipment to those in need. And the university is being a good citizen in providing the materials. The university had a fair amount of PLA (polylactic acid used to make the headbands) on hand, and “there’s no way we would have used it all before it expired. This was a shining light,” Bohm said.

He’s also grateful for the help of experts who have guided them on the project “It’s really important to have an organization (AdventHealth), clinicians and physicians have their eyes on it. You have to listen to the experts.”

Djuan Gayle, a senior majoring in computer engineering who has already started a business with other students, is helping manufacture the masks. “The fact that we can now turn to 3D printing when other means of manufacturing cannot keep up is mind-blowing, and it finally brings the importance of 3D printing to light.”

Bohm described 3D printing as taking a bottle of Elmer’s Glue and squirting it. “As soon as you squirt it, you start molding what you want. 3D printers use what looks like weed-eater string, which starts heating up and then comes back to a solid.” 

Between 50 percent and 75 percent of students at Florida Poly have personal 3D printers, a commitment the college made when it designed its dorms, Bohm said. Each printer costs about $300, an investment that now is benefiting the community.

“Being part of this project means that I get to play my part and help my community.”