Local group uses 3D printing capabilities to help community
By PHYLLIS HODGES
Find a need and fill it. That’s what our community has been doing. Sewing machines are going nonstop making masks, and neighbors are helping neighbors however they can.
One group in Valencia Lakes — Handling the Future — found a way to use its members’ expertise in three-dimensional (3D) printing to make ventilator splitters, ear guards, face masks and face shields so sorely needed by health care providers.
For those unfamiliar with Handling the Future, it is a 27-member-strong Valencia Lakes club local chapter of Enabling the Future (e-NABLE), a global nonprofit 501(c)3, organization. E-NABLE volunteers use their 3D printers to create prosthetic hands and arms for children and adults (at no charge) who have all or partial loss of a hand either from birth or trauma. The chapter was formed in 2015 as a Valencia Lakes club. All the members are residents of Valencia Lakes, but they also bring in experts to assist as needed.
President Richard Brown said that early in the COVID-19 crisis, members modified their 3D software to produce the personal protection equipment (PPE) as well as ventilator splitters. They did not receive an enthusiastic response from health agencies about the ventilators due to technical issues, so they regrouped and focused on PPE. The word spread on local social media and requests started pouring in.
3D printing is not a simple, quick printing process. When the members started, each shield took four hours to print. Now, it’s two hours after they refined the process. Brown says the group’s creativity is overcoming obstacles and gave an example of how they are dealing with the shortage of polycarbonate face screen material. They designed their own screen, using a 5-mil laminating pouch, adding a chin reinforcement and running it through a laminator. To simplify and speed assembly, they purchased a heavy-duty paper cutter that eliminated hand cutting the screen to fit. Then they revised the shield design to incorporate a slot to receive the transparent screen. The original design had four holes punched one at a time. The team has run 200 hundred already and just received a second laminator and another 200 pouches.
Among the recipients of the face shields thus far: St. Joseph’s Hospital—South; Women’s Health–St Joseph’s, Tampa; most of the area’s Florida Ear, Nose and Throat offices; some individual front-line health care workers; and Valencia Lakes front gate security staff. “It’s been busy and getting busier. We have no place to go, so we will keep printing,” Brown says. “I would like to personally thank those who have supported us, whether in spirit or donations to help cover material costs. The support has been inspiring, and we are adding people to the team. We have members who can learn the technique or place more than one printer in their homes—if we had more printers but that’s beyond our current budget. If you know anyone with their own 3D printer who is not busy, we could definitely use their participation.”
For more information about Handling the Future or e-NABLE (a 501(c)3 organization), visit its website at www.enablingthe future.org. To learn more about the local chapter and opportunities for helping, email Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.