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Creighton community utilizes 3D printing to make more PPE

Matt Calkins wears a 3D mask.With medical facilities and essential workers across the country scrambling to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Creighton University community are working to manufacture more using the latest in 3D printing technology.

Creighton libraries printing face shields

Four 3D printers at Creighton’s Reinert-Alumni Memorial Library have been running nonstop in recent weeks, producing face shields and protective masks for medical workers around the city and region.

David Buffington, evening supervisor and technology specialist at the library, delivered the first batch of 30 face shield headbands to Renuga Vivekanandan, MD, associate professor in Creighton’s School of Medicine and an infectious disease expert at CHI Health, this month. The project is the result of a partnership of Creighton libraries, the medical school and CHI.

Buffington, who has been designated mission critical staff and is able to work on campus despite its closure in early April, has been at the library at all hours, printing as many as 10 visors a day. The finished product is a headband to which a transparent shield can be fixed to protect health care workers against airborne particulates that could carry the virus that causes COVID-19. The design for the visor is available for free through the National Institutes of Health, Buffington says.

To ensure the equipment is germ-free, Buffington wears a mask and gloves while handling it. After completing a batch of visors, Buffington places them in airtight plastic bags for three days.

“It’s a really good feeling,” he says of creating the masks. “You want to do what you can to help out. This is one of the easiest things the library could do to contribute. It just goes along with our mission at Creighton. We’re here to help others, we’re here to help our students, and we’re hopefully here to help out the rest of the community.”

Dental School alumnus prints masks from Montana dental office

Matt Calkins, DDS’14, has printed dozens of masks for local hospitals near his Glendive, Montana dental office.

Calkins is printing a style of mask called the Montana Mask, developed — coincidentally — by inventors in Billings, Montana, looking to address the PPE shortage. The design file for the mask is available for free online and is being used widely. (The mask has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending the use of homemade masks and face coverings in public.)

The Montana Mask consists of a 3D-printed face mask and filter frame that can be fitted with a swatch of filtration material cut from a standard surgical mask. The idea is to conserve materials by extending the use of a single surgical mask.

Calkins is using a different technique by making the masks out of flexible material normally used for athletic mouthguards. The advantage, Calkins says, is that the pliable masks don’t need a liner to fit the face well, like normal 3D printed masks do. The material can also be heated with a small propane torch and molded to each wearer’s face. Calkins’ masks can also easily be worn with loupes magnifiers, commonly worn by many dentists and surgeons.

With the American Dental Association recommending a closure of dental offices to all but emergency patients, the 3D printer in Calkins’ office, usually used to make models of teeth and other tools, was suddenly free to print as many Montana Masks as Calkins could deliver.

“I’m just trying to do my part to help my community,” he says.

Dental student works with Lincoln group to deliver 3D-printed masks

Patrick Lahiff, a third-year student in the Creighton School of Dentistry, is making masks on his personal 3D printer and working with a Lincoln group to provide them to Nebraska professionals who need them.

Lahiff, president of his class, bought his own 3D printer this year to make tools and other small items to support his woodworking hobby. When the pandemic closed Creighton’s dental clinic to all but emergency patients, Lahiff decided to print several face shields for any dentists still working at the school.

He eventually connected with a Lincoln group called Team LNK: Hack the Pandemic, which is working to provide 3D-printed Montana Masks to medical facilities and other essential workers in the state. Since then, he’s printed more than 10 masks and hopes to have at least 30 total to contribute to the effort.

Lahiff runs the printer at all hours — except when he’s studying for his exams, he says.

“It’s cool that printers have the ability to do this, and it’s cool that I have one that can do it,” he says. “It’s nice that everyone is coming together on a common cause like this.”


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