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3D enthusiasts join forces to help fight COVID-19

Lily York with one of her first edition masks

When you ask Lily York if she thinks she’s a hero, she emphatically declares “Yes!”

A kindergartner at Barretts Elementary School, Lily and her father are using their 3D printer to create “Montana Masks.” The masks will be used by healthcare professionals in rural Missouri, who are fighting COVID-19.

Lily is a hero. But she is not alone.

Rick Reeves, Industrial Arts and Project Lead The Way [PLTW] teacher at Francis Howell High

In St. Charles County, Rick Reeves is running two 3D printers around the clock, churning out headbands and brackets that will be paired with transparent face shields and used by healthcare professionals in metro St. Louis fighting COVID-19.

Reeves is the Industrial Arts and Project Lead The Way [PLTW] teacher at Francis Howell High. He’s using his spare time and the school’s printers and raw material — PLA [poly lactic acid] filament — to accomplish the task. He’s acting at the request of Dr. David Brothers, the district’s director of assessment and curriculum.

When Brothers called and said the district wanted to make masks, Reeves was all in. He’d already been looking into a prototype and had one of the school’s printers at his home.

“I brought [a printer] home at the start of spring break just in case a student needed me to make anything for them,” Reeves explained. When he got the call from Brothers, he retrived the school’s second printer and all its raw materials.

Lily’s journey to mask making was all her idea, her father said. Her project is called “Lil’ Helpers.”

“Because I’m Lily,” she said.

It began when Lily and her dad decided they wanted a 3D printer. Lily’s mom suggested they write a business plan for its use. That got Lily thinking. They could make toys or something to sell but then she decided what she really wanted to do was help.

“I thought of helping because there is a YouTube video that says that some people are born and they don’t have hands that can move like our hands. When I saw that video I thought maybe of helping people,” Lily explained.

Together with her dad, she researched mask designs and on April 1, the duo connected with the St. Louis 3D Printing Society on Facebook and learned about the Montana Mask.

An example of a Montana Mask

“What’s interesting about this design is that you can take one N95 mask and turn it into six,” Bryan said. The Montana Mask requires just a portion of N95 filter material. “By cutting it into pieces, you can essentially multiply it, so to speak.”

He noted that the administrator of the Facebook group is taking care of mask assembly.

“Right now, we’re just focused on pumping out the plastic portion, which is pretty perfect for us,” Bryan said.

“We do two [runs] a day,” Lily said. “With the old design, we used to do one a day.” The old design was much more complicated and took longer to produce. “The new design takes 8 hours to make.”

Bryan explained that each run produces two masks. While the high-efficiency filtration mask design is not approved by the FDA or NIOSH, it has been rigorously tested, according to the physician that invented it.

“They should help in a pinch at hospitals experiencing a short supply,” Bryan said.

In St. Charles County, meeting the urgent need for personal protective equipment is what also motivates Reeves.

While Reeves prints the headbands, the Inventor Forge MakerSpace in the EDC takes charge of the shield assembly and their delivery to BJC Healthcare professionals in metro St. Louis. Previously Inventor Forge delivered about 100 shields to Mercy health care professionals.

Mercy medical staff show of their Inventor Forge MakerSpace face shields.

George Fetters, of Inventor Forge, explained the need, origin and process of the face shield project.

“We’re part of a group called Flatten The Curve STL. Basically, it’s Inventor Forge, The Makers of Made, Archreactor, CG Designs and David Cervantes, of Cervantes Design that are behind it,” Fetters said. “We came together about two weeks ago to help out any way we could. So far we’ve produced about 700 face shields and we’re picking up another 500-700 parts today [April 3], so we’ll have those in the pipeline.

“We have demand for about 4,000 from medical professionals at BJC, SSM and Mercy; even dentist offices are asking for them.”

In addition to Francis Howell High, Fetters said Lutheran High St. Charles is printing parts. “The Wentzville School District just started yesterday [April 2] and the Fort Zumwalt School District is donating filament,” he said.

Reeves said his only regret is that his students can’t help him. With the school closure and the need to keep the headbands as sterile as possible, having students help just isn’t a possibility. He has spoken, however, to Francis Howell Central High Industrial Arts teacher Don Barnes and Howell North teacher Mike Green and hopes they may be joining the effort soon.

Fetters added, “If anybody wants to help the easiest way to join in is to go to flattenthecurvestl.com and there’s a link to sign up. If medical professionals need face shields, there is also a link on that page for them to request face shields. We also have a link to which face shield model we are printing and information on how to package the finished product. We’re trying to be as safe as possible.”

Area 3D printing enthusiasts also can connect with the St. Louis 3D Printing Society on Facebook.

“If we can get the word out so that folks in the area with 3D printers, who want to get involved with a coordinated effort to get masks in the hands of those in need, I think that’d be the real win,” Bryan said.

Lily agrees.

“There are people all over the country that are doing this,” Fetters said. “It really does your heart good to see how many people are coming together and trying to make a difference.”

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