Somerset Community College using its 3D printers to make medical face shields

face shields
Somerset Community College student in the Additive Manufacturing program assembles 3D printed face shields for local hospital amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.

SOMERSET, Ky. Somerset Community College (SCC) is putting its 3D printers to work to create face shields that will help Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital (LCRH) amid a supply shortage in the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19).

It began with a request from partnering networks and the state to see if local colleges could help print the newly release prototype for face shields.  Eric Wooldridge, SCC professor of Additive Manufacturing, answered letting them know the college’s lab could answer the call for more medical supplies.

Inside the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence on the Somerset Campus, the printers are running 24/7 to produce approximately 100 face shields per day.

“We have ordered a large supply of plexiglass and filament and we will start assembling face shields tomorrow once the shipment arrives,” said Wooldridge.

Two additional volunteers from the lab are lending a helping hand, assembling the masks from supplies SCC has collected from outside vendors. Wooldridge has collected enough material to provide thousands of face shields, which can be used by health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Wooldridge is also keeping social distancing in mind as work is being done.

“We are thrilled that we can provide this important product to our local hospital to help protect their front line personnel,” said Alesa Johnson, vice president of Workforce Solutions. “SCC is committed to helping fight this virus in any capacity that we can. We are ramping up our printing capacity this week with the hope of printing enough extra face shields needed not only by Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital but other healthcare facilities in the communities we serve.”

“The 3D printing community has stepped up immediately in a very big way.  Some of the things we are producing currently did not even exist just days ago,” said Wooldridge.

This is what the additive manufacturing technology is made for, to step in and provide when there is a supply chain breakdown. This issue has arisen very fast for the needs of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“We are so grateful to so many for their efforts to pitch in and support the health and well-being of our local community. Our partnership with Somerset Community College is truly beneficial, and in this case, uses the technology and resources already in place at a local level to fill a need for our team here at the hospital,” said Robert Parker, CEO of LCRH. “This is just one example of the many individuals and businesses who have offered their support – it truly means so much to all of us here at LCRH, as our entire community works its way through this crisis.”

Additive Manufacturing technology has truly revolutionized the ability to help provide supplies in many different industries. The capabilities that the world can now produce in a matter of hours is amazing and a real game-changer.

“I’d rather be here in the lab making these masks than sitting at home waiting this thing out, in fact, I am sleeping in the lab so production doesn’t stop,” Wooldridge said.

“We can produce a lot with minimal manpower, however, one thing we have learned from this experience for future need is we need more people trained on this technology,” urged Wooldridge.

SCC is planning to work through a grant, Rapid Response Additive Manufacturing Initiative (RRAMI) to start developing a network of partners to make it possible to do this in a much grander scale next time a need arises.

The next item to be produced will be medical respirators and SCC will be ready and willing to answer the call.