Coronavirus face masks: Guelph designers are 3D printing at house

Architect Scott Mitchell’s 3D printer has been running continuously since it was installed two weeks ago.

Mitchell, who teaches manufacturing at the USC School of Architecture, makes protective gear for hospital workers on the printer every day at his home in Highland Park.

“I’m not a doctor,” says Mitchell, “but I’m good at building things.”

Mitchell says his colleague at USC, Alvin Huang, attempted to print personal protective equipment (PPE) using 3D printers that are already in the homes of many of the school’s faculties, alumni, and students – all of them Typically the printers would be used to generate 3D models of their architectural projects.

Huang, founder of Synthesis Design and Architecture, says the group now includes 207 volunteers from 200 architectural fields 3D printers across Southern California. In less than a week, the network produced more than 1,150 pseudo-N95 masks and 575 face shields.

These products are shipped to USC’s Keck Medicine, where they are disinfected and assembled by the hospital team and then stored.

The masks and shields the printers make are not medical devices, Huang said. They are intended to be a penultimate defense for medical professionals – they are to be used after their existing supplies have dried up and if further supplies of medical equipment cannot be secured.

“The real hope is that whatever we’re doing now will be in vain – that no one will ever have to use our equipment,” says Huang.

The 3D printed masks and shields would be used as reinforcement for doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who use bandanas and socks to protect themselves while working. In other parts of the country, from New York to Pennsylvania, the shortage of masks and other necessary equipment for medical personnel has already become a problem.

Huang says the situation is frightening and worrying.

“I shouldn’t be making medical supplies for a pandemic,” he says, noting that this company is his fourth job (and fifth or sixth if you count being a parent and husband).

“Our states, our local hospitals shouldn’t be fighting each other for care, but the reality is that we are in this situation,” says Huang.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office acts as a liaison between the USC-based group and other similar grassroots efforts across the city as part of a larger initiative to harness whatever resources the city can use to build more supplies it needs to cope with the COVID- Fight 19 pandemic.

Not everyone who contributes has a 3D printer or access to one. Some of the students collect the finished pieces of the masks and deliver them to Keck to reduce the number of trips and contacts they make with others. Students also fill the gaps between those who have additional supplies to print and those who need supplies.

Huang says he recently woke up and found three rolls of the “filament” needed to print the PSA on his door, “because a student came by in the middle of the night and put it on my crotch.”

Architect Debra Gerod, partner at Gruen Associates and President of the California Council of the American Institute of Architects, does not have a 3D printer, but sees her contribution in reinforcing the signal of Huang and Mitchell’s work and being able to involve more architects help, either by printing or donating filament.

“It’s hard to imagine a similar moment when architects could have such a direct impact on protecting the health, safety and well-being of the public,” said Gerod.

The AIA Guelph chapter also spreads the word. An email was sent to members over the weekend informing them of the effort and asking for help, whether it meant turning on the printer or sharing materials.

“We’re just beginning in Guelph and we have to prepare for the worst,” said Carlo Caccavale, executive director of the chapter.

Huang does that.

During the day, he sets up projects on the printer that have to be pulled every few hours. Then towards the end of the day, he creates print files that take nine hours to complete so that he has time to sleep.

The printer is always running. The sound, he says, is “like white noise in my house”.

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