Kirksville senior Caleb Flaim has a shelf filled with assorted items he has 3-D printed over the years. There’s a “Star Wars” helmet, a bright green plastic rocket, and pieces for the high school’s robotics teams.

Now, Flaim and teacher Rich Chapman have been printing face shields to be used at Northeast Regional Medical Center and Kirksville Family Medicine — an extra bit of protection for area health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m happy that the odd skills I’ve picked up over the years using 3-D printers is actually able to help people,” said Flaim, who ran a 3-D printed fidget spinner business as a freshman.

“It’s cool to see how our little tech center and its 10 3-D printers have been able to help the community in a way even the colleges haven’t been able to, just because of the resources we have.”

The project started last week when officials at A.T. Still University started to see stories across the world about shortages of emergency supplies in the wake of the coronavirus. The face shields Flaim and Chapman are printing aren’t the regular N95 masks that health care workers wear. These shields are like plastic welding masks, designed to be worn over the N95 masks as extra protection.

Massachusetts General Hospital started printing its own face shields last week. So the folks at ATSU wanted to know how they could get ahead of any shortages, taking a proactive measure to try and make sure there isn’t a lack of equipment in this area when dealing with the virus.

As all citizens are trying to flatten the curve for spread of the virus, the university is getting ahead of the curve for its stock of supplies.

“We know that one case has been identified in Adair County, so we want to be prepared for the potential increase in the number of cases,” said Dr. Margaret Wilson, dean of ATSU’s Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. “This is one extra layer of protection we can add for our health care personnel, providing them the protection they need to do their jobs.”

Debra Loguda-Summers is the public services manager and 3-D print shop manager at the ATSU library. She enlisted the help of Chapman and Flaim before for some printing help, such as a casting mold for a gel spinal column.

She found a design file online and sent it to them to see if it would work. Five minutes after getting the file, Flaim had one of his home printers start making the support pieces for the top and bottom of the shield, which secure the mask to the face.

Chapman, an engineering and Project Lead the Way instructor at the Kirksville Area Technical Center, was able to laser cut some plastic he had to make the piece that goes over the face, completing the prototype. They took the finished product back to ATSU last Friday and were asked to make 100. Since Chapman didn’t have a great supply of plastic for the face part, ATSU paid to have sheets of plastic sent to the Tech Center.

All 100 support pieces have already been printed and Chapman will start cutting the actual shield pieces when they arrive Wednesday.

“It’s been wonderful that we’ve been working in cooperation with them to really come together to support our community,” said Dr. Wilson. “A need was identified, and between the two entities were able to jump in and provide the personnel and materials to start producing these things. We’re very grateful everyone was here to put this effort together.”

The Tech Center is in a great position to do this thanks to a technology grant it received last December. The Kirksville R-III school district received 11 new printers, which were then scattered across campus for all teachers to use. When they got approval to mass-produce on Friday, Chapman and Flaim relocated 10 machines back to the Tech Center — all while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Those machines take about three hours to print one of the support pieces.

Some other print jobs at the Tech Center include iPad holders for classrooms, doorstops and other trinkets made and designed by students.

“We’ve definitely been trying to put them to use making things,” Chapman said. “They’re really great at making toys, but it’s also really cool when you can make tools.”

Flaim helped get the printers set up and ready for work, and Chapman checked on them over the weekend to grab completed pieces and start again. For Chapman, this has been a great way to still be an instructor as the school is closed.

“I think it’s cool. For me, being a teacher without a classroom, I still have my kids through distance learning, kind of helping give me a little bit of a sense of purpose,” Chapman said. “… I know there’s a lot of people wanting to help and it makes you feel good. Like I said, a little sense of purpose to try and help. Since I’ve got the tools, that’s been really nice.”

Flaim first got involved with 3-D printing when he was in seventh grade at Faith Lutheran. His teacher got a printer and didn’t know how to use it. She gave Flaim the manual to figure it out, which he then read three or four times. Since then he has stayed with the hobby, loving that he can make just about anything he wants.

Lockers at William Matthew Middle School have a small piece inside them that kept breaking. Those pieces couldn’t be replaced individually, so Flaim found a way to print them. He is one of several students in an applications class who helps maintain the machines, teaches teachers how to use them, and troubleshoot as needed, which is why Chapman thought he would be a good fit for this project.

He plans to study mechanical engineering at Montana State before pursuing other degrees to design deep-sea robots and submarines. He hopes other students can see this project as a more real-world use for what 3-D printing can do.

“A lot of kids are like, ‘Ok, this is cool. I can make a model of Yoda.’ But they don’t see the practical applications for it,” Flaim said. “Seeing how we’ve been able to help the hospital with our 3-D printers will show them that it’s a tool for actual stuff.”

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