WMU 3D printers producing face shields and masks for health care workers

Contact: Joy Brown
Video of WMU using 3D printers to help healthcare workers fight COVID-19

Learn how WMU faculty and staff are using 3D printers to make face shields.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University’s 3D printers aren’t sitting idle during the pandemic. Instead, staff and professors from multiple campus departments are using them to produce personal protective equipment—specifically face shields—for health care workers who desperately need them during the COVID-19 patient surge.

Dylan Ledbetter, assistant director of Information Technology labs and the Help Desk at WMU, says his office is making face shields to go to the Sindecuse Health center as part of the ongoing WMU effort to provide materials to help protect health workers and share WMU resources. He and other staff members are using a 3D model created by 3DVerkstan, a 3D printing collective based in Sweden. The model is currently under review by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To produce the shields, they are using plastic filament and transparency sheets similar to those used for overhead projectors. WMU's information technology unit has enough material to create 1,500 shields, with more material on the way. Each shield takes about 45 minutes to produce.

“With eight printers running simultaneously all day, we expect to make upward of at least 70 shields per day,” Ledbetter says.

Shield material was donated from Kalamazoo-based company Fabri-Kal, and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences will assist with cutting the shields to size.

“We made our first shields yesterday and presented them to (WMU's) Sindecuse Health Center folks, who loved them,” says Thomas Wolf, WMU's chief information officer.

The team also has reached out to WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine.

Faculty and staff at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences are also working on a very similar face shield design; both groups began with the same design files. Engineering college Interim Dean Steven Butt says samples were recently presented to Sindecuse and WMed Health.

A WMU 3D printer making a face shield.

“Fabri-Kal recently donated transparent sheeting material to support both groups,” Butt says. “So, the shields are ready and being vetted.”

Machine shop specialist Allin Kahrl and faculty specialist Mike Konkel are doing the 3D printing, material preparation and assembly at the engineering college.

For more information about WMU's face shield 3D-printing project, visit the group's webpage.

Others involved in the production process include:

  • Joshua Grant, IT associate director of faculty services
  • Arnold Taylor, IT director of support services
  • Travis Wendt, IT audio visual engineer
  • Bill Feenstra, College of Aviation director of information technology and director of simulation technology
  • Jeffery Nillson, College of Aviation chief aircraft inspector
  • Jake Zoch, College of Aviation simulator and information technology technician

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.