For medical professionals working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) is a necessary but sometimes uncomfortable tool in the fight to stay healthy. Now, thanks to the resources of the Baylor University Libraries, health care professionals at Family Health Center Waco received 550 3D printed surgical mask tension-relief bands produced on equipment from the libraries’ Experiential Learning Commons (ELC).
“We saw an opportunity to use our 3D printers to solve an immediate and timely need by jumping onto this project,” said Andrew Telep, assistant director for the Experiential Learning Commons at Baylor Libraries. “If it makes wearing a mask even slightly more comfortable for the healthcare workers doing all they can to protect our community, it is well worth the effort.”
The collaboration began with a personal connection between Telep and Fernando Arroyo, chief of staff at the FHC. Arroyo shared how the physicians, nurses and medical staff at 16 clinics were spending hours wearing masks to protect them from the especially virulent and easily spread novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Arroyo expressed interest in obtaining something like a surgical mask tension-relief band to make wearing masks for long periods more comfortable.
Telep discovered that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website featured a set of 3D-printing plans for a small band that, when worn across the back of the head, provides hooks for the facemasks’ rubber bands. The bands hook onto the tension-relief band instead of a person’s ears, making the mask more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.
Telep’s work overseeing the ELC provides access to several 3D printers, which are normally used to support student and faculty research and projects ranging from producing prototypes to fully rendered models and custom projects like stands for the libraries’ copy of the Saint John’s Bible. With the clinically reviewed and recommended models freely available on the NIH website, it was a matter of preparing the models for printing, loading the printers with filament and repeating the print process.
However, with Waco and McLennan County’s shelter-in-place order by closing campus to essential staff, Telep didn’t have student assistants available to operate the printers for extended projects as he would in normal conditions. Knowing the importance of the project and seeing only one alternative, he loaded the printers into his car and brought them home, where he has been running them since April 10.
Telep delivered 550 of the tension relief bands to Arroyo and the FHC Tuesday, but he notes that he will keep running the printers as long as a need for the devices is felt. And that mindset is already paying off: Telep has recently begun work on another batch of hundreds of bands at the request of Taylor Ulmer at Baylor Scott & White. He also noted that anyone with a 3D printer at home who wants to join in the effort can find the model on the NIH website at https://3dprint.nih.gov/discover/3dpx-013410.