As hospitals around the world face a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), local healthcare professionals are using technology such as 3D printing and laser cutting to create a new supply source.
Just last week, CoxHealth teamed up with Missouri State University’s Jordan Valley Innovation Center (JVIC) to create plastic face shields that protect faces from splatter and droplet exposure.
The shields are also designed to protect and preserve the surgical masks worn underneath, explained Scott Rogers, system director of Performance Integration and Innovation at CoxHealth. That way, the surgical masks that are in desperate demand right now can be used longer.
“Our design challenge was to come up with something we can clean and we can reuse,” Rogers said.
In the past, CoxHealth purchased disposable face shields that came with a foam head band and an elastic band that goes around the head. But because the elastic and foam are porous, there’s no way to clean and reuse them.
Rogers said the hospital already had a large quantity of disposable eye wear, so the team decided to use the frames as a base, or starting point. The hospital also had about 5,000 square feet of a thin plastic material that could be used as the shield.
They are using 3D printing to create a nose piece to connect the plastic shield to the frames. They are using laser cutting to cut the thin plastic material into the shields.
The team started the project last Wednesday morning. By the end of Thursday, they had a prototype ready for employees to try out and then give the team feedback.
“We need to get more samples in other areas because people’s jobs are different,” Rogers said. “If you are an emergency worker in EMS or an ambulance, your job is going to be totally different than if you are with patients in a clinic.”
Since the frames they are using as the base are very common and something most healthcare systems already have in stock, the team has made their design downloadable and accessible to everyone.
“If you read what is online, it says, ‘Here is our quick attempt at this. Please download these files and try it,'” Rogers said. “‘If it meets your needs, great. If not, iterate. Make it better.'”
Rogers said the response has been great with healthcare systems from around the country reaching out, interested in the designs.
As far as the cost of the face shields, Rogers said the team isn’t worried about that.
“It’s cheap and easy because it’s materials that we have available,” he said. “We designed it around the base frame that we already have.”
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With the 3D printer, the team is able to tweak the design almost immediately based on what they hear from hospital workers using the prototype.
“It allows you to make samples quickly and change the design,” he said. “By the end of the day on Thursday, we were at design number 22 for the nose piece.”
Rogers said CoxHealth currently has a good supply of PPE for employees and a “good supply chain.” But they want to prevent what is happening at hospitals in New York and Washington state where supplies of PPE are dangerously low.
“This is about preparation, not desperation,” Rogers added. “As the virus spreads and there are more people that are going to come in exhibiting symptoms, we want to be prepared.”
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