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Mask Maker, Mask Maker, Print Me A Mask

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Kevin Lavery
/
WKAR-MSU
Melissa Rabideau is the founder of TinkrLab, a STEAM-based company in Okemos. She and others are using 3-D printers to create masks and face shields for health care workers treating coronavirus patients.

Health care workers across the country are in dire need of personal protective gear to combat the spread of the coronavirus.  As they make do as best they can, some people outside the medical field are making this gear themselves using 3-D printers.

Melissa Rabideau:

About a week ago (March 23), I saw some different people who were 3-D printing these masks. I thought, that's cool. But then I started actually thinking about it going, OK…I know a lot of different people who have 3-D printers. What would happen if we all came together? So, I started reaching out to East Lansing public schools; we work really closely with them, and I found out they were interested in doing the masks. So we said, hey, let's get this started. Let's go.

Kevin Lavery:

How exactly does a 3-D printer work?

Rabideau:

I like to relate it to a hot glue gun. The glue goes in the back end and it comes out soft. Same thing with a 3-D printer. The material at the top of the printer funnels down into the extruder, which is the heated piece down at the bottom.  It melts and it comes out and lays flat layer by layer, and as it's laid out, it re-hardens.

Lavery:

What material are you using to make these masks?

Rabideau:

This material is called PLA. It's a non-toxic plant based material. It’s manufactured by a company called 3DXTECH, which is a Grand Rapids manufacturer. So it's really cool that we're making all of these products out of a Michigan made material.

Lavery:

How do you actually program the printer to fit a certain specification? How do you know that it’s going to fit properly; that it's what the people for whom you're making it really need?

Rabideau:

That was one of the things that when looking at the masks, we said, OK…is this something that people actually want? I don't want to put material and resources and people's time into something that they can't utilize and that they can't actually have ready for them. We’re pretty much doing a one size fits all type model because there's so many different shapes of faces and sizes of people. It would be impossible for us at this point to be able to fit all of them.

That's also another reason that we are going to be moving really heavily into the face shields. A face shield is going to be able to double team with a mask that the provider may already have.  They can wear the face shield, and with that we are 3-D printing the band that goes around the head and we’re laser cutting the shield.

Lavery:

How long does it take to make one mask and one face shield?

Rabideau:

So, the masks…depending on the type of printer that you have, it will take anywhere from four to six hours to make a mask.  The face shields take about an hour to print the band and it takes less than a minute to cut the shield. So, we can produce a lot of them a lot quicker when we move to the face shields.

Lavery:

Is this a 24 hour operation?

Rabideau:

The really cool part about all of this has been the people that have joined in with what we’re doing.  We have over 150 individuals running over 200 3-D printers on these projects. That’s happened within the last week. We have individuals, we have some small businesses and we also have some schools that are utilizing their printers that they have for their classes. They're not being used right now, so the teachers are printing for us.

Lavery:

This has become quite an impromptu cottage industry, then?

Rabideau:

Yeah, it's pretty much just jump in full force.  With all of the shelter in place orders and all of that, our business went from operating to a complete standstill in a matter of a day. I can curl up in a ball on the floor and cry because I don't know what's going to happen.  Or, I can turn my attention to, how can I use what I have available to me – 3-D printers and contacts of our customers who have done 3-D printing -- and how can we at least do something and shift the focus off of ourselves and instead be part of the solution.

 

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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