Student 3D-prints face shields for coronavirus fight

High school senior Emmanuel Cuevas modified his 3D printer to shorten production time
By: | March 26, 2020
Shortages of face shields and other protective equipment motivated high school senior Emmanuel Cuevas to use his 3-D printer to produce face shields for local doctors and nurses.Shortages of face shields and other protective equipment motivated high school senior Emmanuel Cuevas to use his 3-D printer to produce face shields for local doctors and nurses.

Reports that doctors and nurses battling the coronavirus in Massachusetts were running short of face shields, face masks and other protective equipment concerned high school senior and 3D-printing whiz Emmanuel Cuevas.

With his STEM-focused school, Northampton High School, closed by COVID-19, there was nothing else for him to do, he told District Administration, but modify his 3D printer to increase production, order some plastic and get to work.

His modifications mean he can 3D-print the plastic headpiece portion of the face shield in about 45 minutes—a process that would have taken two to three hours.

As of lunchtime Thursday, Cuevas had made 47 face shields for a pair of local hospitals, including the one where his mother works as a physician.

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“Seeing that there are individuals in the health care industry who are not properly protected is alarming, especially because one of those people could be my mom,” Cuevas, 18, said, speaking over the whirring and buzzing of his 3D printer working away in the background.

“I have a piece of technology not everyone is able to have, so I put it to use,” added Cuevas, who plans to major in aerospace engineering next year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

He used open-source software for the model of the headpiece. The biggest challenge so far has been producing the clear, plastic lens portion of the face shield.

Because those cannot be 3D-printed, he and his parents (his father is also a doctor) began testing other transparent materials.

They found that the transparencies used in old-school overhead projectors were of perfect thickness, and they have been using those to assemble the full face shield.

“Right now, what would else be doing? Watching TV?” Cuevas said. “There are people who are getting sick and I’d rather do something positive to help save lives.”

Cuevas’ effort reflects the impact of Northampton High School’s IT and innovation pathway, and the coaching educators have received in implementing ed tech in teaching and learning, said John Provost, superintendent of Northampton Public Schools.

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Cuevas’ project also demonstrates the district’s belief in students reaching their potential by building community through kindness and tolerance, Provost added.

“I really have a lot of faith in the rising generation of students—not only because of things like what Manny has done but also the way students used social media to spontaneously organize a nationwide demonstration on the importance of gun control in response to the shooting in Flordia,” Provost said.

“It makes me think these students are going to do much more with the technology tools they have at their disposal than previous generations have,” he said.

3D printer farm cranking out face shields

Elsewhere, entire districts have pooled their resources to provide protective gear for local health care workers.

Hamilton County Schools in Tennesse has 17 school-based Fab Labs, where students work with 3D printing and other technology.

Heeding a call from local hospitals and healthcare providers, the district brought more than 30 3D printers to one location and, after getting some assistance from software developers around the world, has been producing the plastic headpieces for doctors and nurses.

The district also had donated gowns, masks and gloves from its CTE programs back to local hospitals.

“We want to do anything we can to flatten the curve,” Chief Schools Officer Neelie Parker said.

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