Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Projects with Real Products for Real Needs

Head bands for face shields
We have an informal policy of never saying no to a student or teacher idea, unless of course safety is involved.  But sometimes we establish priorities, procedures, and policies that help all of our team members, collaborators and daily visits pursue goals that are consistent with our mission to promote awareness and access to technical career information for our future workforce in an increasingly global, 5G/IoT, data-driven workforce.

Last year we invested in two mid-priced 3D printers ($700-$800) and shared an informal policy of designing and printing things that have real utility.  We reflect on that broadly and only rarely have to steer someone from creating something cute toward something that is instead interesting and functional.
Packaged for NoVA Labs

Our network of career and technical education (CTE) and STEM teachers and other education experts nearly always seem to have similar orientations, and we realize we are teaching the students who will soon be able to enroll in their courses in middle school and high school as they choose among many other tempting elective course options (e.g., Art, Photography, Chorus, Band, Orchestra).  Like those teachers, we also embrace the idea that lab projects can and should result in real products, even better if those products met a real need in the community.

Accordingly, we are active in those local, state and national agencies and organizations that represent those educators and stay in touch regularly.  Many like Rob Dudek, Topher Paterno, Cassidy Nolan, Danielle Meyer, Matt Cupples, and Kris Martini provided ideas and support and were on the
focus groups that helped set up our Lab back in 2016.

Hospital staff with new shields.
Source: Arlington Magazine 
The concern for personal protective equipment shortages became apparent almost at the same time schools began closing, and our Northern Virginia Technology and Engineering Education teacher friends and our local nonprofit makerspace (NoVA Labs) reached out at the same time with options for making face shields and N-95 particulate respirators for medical personnel and other essential workers during the emerging crisis.  Our Thinkabit Lab Manager, Rowena Enatsky, immediately began researching and evaluating options and squeezed production goals into her already-long task list.  She divided up the printers and necessary supplies, and as our building switched from limited access to restricted access we both started operations from home.

Source: Arlington Magazine
NoVA Labs (both Rowena and I are long-time members) project leaders are using their laser cutters to create the plastic shields for the head mount we were building, so it seemed best to use the custom settings from Prusa that would fit the spacing of the face shield holes.  The designs evolved every week or so as makers throughout the country continued experimenting, and we also recognized the benefits of adaptable head bands that supported plastic shields made from readily available materials from office supply stores and others. Of course all of these experiments helped us to experiment with our printers and learn them better.

The head bands are printed in two or three parts, and masks are printed in three or four parts depending on the models you use.  Evidence suggests the demand will continue.  If you want to use your printer, here are resources to get you started:

  • About Nova Labs - LINK
  • NIH print files - LINK
  • Open source PRUSA design from International medical authorities - LINK
  • N-95 Mask respirator resources - LINK or instead, HERE

If you can’t access your printer or don’t yet have one, we’ll help print your designs or useful products.  Reach out at STEM@vt.edu or Thinkabit@vt.edu .