Using 3D printers to help health care workers
April 2, 2020
WORLAND - While Washakie County only has one case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at this time, residents are working to ensure health care providers do not run out of necessary masks to protect them and their patience.
The Worland 3D mask printing project started when Brandon Yule was contacted by his brother-in-law, Brandon Richardson. Richardson sent him a link to a story about Richardson's brother, Dr. Dusty Richardson coming up with an idea to make masks for providers.
Yule said he had also seen an article in Italy where a place was coming up with masks from 3D printers. "I thought, Hey that's pretty cool.'"
The design, according to an article by the Billings Gazette, came from an idea by Dusty Richardson, a neurosurgeon at Billings Clinic. He took his idea to a Billings dentist, Spencer Zaugg and his son Colton. They designed the mask, along with the help of HiTech Filters in Billings, to allow for replacement of filters, allowing the mask to be used.
"Using that design I thought this is something that's really handy, it's feasible and it's fieldable. We can put it out into the different medical fields where people are dealing with direct contact with patients," Yule said.
The cost is fairly inexpensive, he said. He has shared the model with a few other residents and Worland Middle School as others get involved in the printing project. He is happy for people to share the model with others with 3D printers "as long as nobody is charging for the masks. That's my big concern."
He added, "It's not a good idea to sell these masks. We have to get them to the people who need them and free of charge. They are dealing with enough stuff as it is already. Our medical industry is on the front lines of this so anything we can do to make their life easier is something to be very grateful for."
Many states have expressed concerns about running out of N-95 masks for their health care workers.
The masks are to help health care providers facing shortages of N-95 masks.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, N95 respirators and surgical masks (face masks) are examples of personal protective equipment that are used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also regulate N95 respirators.
The concern over the 3D models are that N-95 masks are custom fit so there are no gaps on the person's face.
Yule said some providers have been inventive and using window foam to help fill the gaps on the mask.
"What it comes down to it, something is better than nothing. They need some type of barrier between them and their patients," Yule said.
Yule said the mask design allows it to be scaled larger or smaller and he is making his masks a little smaller than the original design.
When he put out a plea for others with 3D printers he said a few individuals have responded as well as Tanya Kienlen and Worland Middle School.
He said his 3D printer is running pretty much 24 hours, seven days a week as he fills requests. He can print two masks at a time in about 13 hours. He originally started out printing one mask in about seven hours.
Yule has filled some orders for Washakie Medical Center, and filled orders for Dr. John Thurston, Dr. Ed Zimmerman, Washakie County Sheriff's Office and is finishing an order for Guardian Flight.
"I've got several people from outside of our area requesting them, but I'm putting priority on Washakie County at this time. We need to take care of our people first. There are 3D printers all across the United States. My hope as that word gets out, that more people put theirs to use."
Yule added that until making these masks his 3D printer sat unused most of the time and he figures others are the same way.
"To put it to good use is great," Yule said.
He initially began the project printing the masks at home but has since moved the printer to Blair's Super Market where he is employed. He said he is there most of the time so he can start new masks easier than running home, plus it gives customers a chance to see how a 3D printer works.
The masks are made from a PLA plastic and can be easily sanitized. The filter needs to be replaced on a regular basis.
A roll of PLA costs about $30. He said one order has been delayed a few weeks and another is on back order until June. He found filters for between $18 for a pack of 50 filters. He has ordered 1,500 filters and he will distribute those to where he has sent masks and to those who are also making masks, including the middle school.
"We want to get as close to an N-95 filter as possible," he said, noting that an N-95 mask blocks 95% of particles of .3 microns or larger. A HEPA filter is close," he said.
He said there were questions about whether the masks were compliant by current standards, but noted again "something is better than nothing."
Yule started printing on March 22 and has printed 37 masks as of Monday morning.
As for the cost of materials, as word has gotten out on Yule's project, he has received nearly $1,000 in donations to date, which are used to purchase filters and more filament.
He said donations should be by check or through Venmo so he can track the donations accurately.
Anyone with a 3D printer interested in making masks may contact Brandon Yule at Blair's Super Market.
He said he will help get them material and distribute the masks to those who need them.
One material that is needed and hard to come by is elastic. He has 200 yards ordered that was to be delivered last week but currently does not have a ship date.
Anyone with elastic that they can donate should contact Yule.
"What it come down to, is we're busy. We have a lot going on, but this is something that's not very labor intensive," Yule said.
Once the printer is "dialed in you let the printer do its work and then start it again."
"This is a big opportunity to make a small impact," Yule said.
Worland Middle School teacher Tanya Kienlen said on Monday she has made 10 masks using the few 3D printers at the school.
She said Yule provided her guidance.
"I had been prepping our online schooling and so had a chance to print 10, but we are continuing to print more," Kienlen said.
She added, "The cool part for me as the tech teacher at Worland Middle School is this is a great opportunity. I had just talked to our eighth graders about how 3D printing can change our world, from printing food for NASA, to all the new stuff medically like printing new knees. It's cool that the students can see this firsthand.
"It allows the students to see the 3D printers are used for more than printing a cool name tag."