AMES, Iowa — Hospitals are in desperate need of personal protective equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An Iowa State University team, in partnership with Alliant Energy, has found a way to help by manufacturing and distributing face shields to Iowa hospitals.
Shelby Doyle, assistant professor of architecture, is co-founder of the Computation and Construction Lab. As COVID-19 spread, she and others in the digital fabrication community started talking about how they could help responsibly.
Because the CCL is not a medical grade fabrication facility, it cannot make N95 face masks. So, Doyle and her team of eight students started looking for other options.
A recent guest lecturer sent Doyle information from a team at Princeton University, which led to the CCL’s decision to work with face shield designs by Prusa3D in the Czech Republic and adapted by the Storrs FabLab at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
While the remainder of Iowa State’s spring semester is online, some student-employees are still allowed to work on campus so long as they follow ISU guidelines and precautions. Doyle gave her student employees the option of working in rotating shifts. They all signed up.
“The CCL student employees are making the best of a really challenging moment where a lot of us feel really helpless as we watch this pandemic unfurl,” Doyle said. “Fabricating face shields is a small way for us to engage that’s within our capabilities: the CCL’s typical research is in 3D modeling, 3D printing and digital fabrication.
“Our work can sometimes seem esoteric, but the need for PPE has brought the best out of the fabrication and design community.”
Fabricate ‘as many as we can’
Before the College of Design building closed, Doyle’s students moved the architecture department’s 3D printers to the CCL. They now have 30 3D printers creating parts for face shields. ISU Central Receiving ensures the CCL gets the materials it needs.
The team hopes to manufacture up to 2,000 face shields – but Doyle and her students say they will work until they can’t.
“We’re trying to make as many as we can,” said Bryan Dellett, third-year architecture student from Geneseo, Illinois.
Alliant Energy is funding the 3D printing and donating supplies to the ISU team. The company will also distribute the face shields as they are finished to hospitals across Iowa.
“Alliant Energy is committed to helping the communities we serve,” said Diane Cooke, vice president of human resources at Alliant Energy. “In times of need, Iowans come together to help their neighbors and their communities. Through this unique and collaborative partnership with Iowa State University, we are coming together to help save lives during this health crisis.”
The students are 3D-printing the top and bottom segments of the face shield, adding a clear plastic cover and an elastic band to secure around a person’s head. Doyle is coordinating the work, buying materials and providing files. The team continually adapts and adjusts its version of the design.
So far, it’s taking about 2 ½ to 3 hours to print the parts for one face shield. The students work rotating shifts to ensure safety, and they have created a “socially distanced” assembly line to put the parts together. During fabrication, each student wears gloves and continuously disinfects the work area and materials. Finished face shields are disinfected again before being placed in sealed containers.
“We didn’t want to give out something that didn’t perform with high quality,” said Anna Lukens, fifth-year architecture student from Batavia, Illinois. “Face shields can extend the life of N95 face masks and help out with other hospital situations like blood draws.”
Doyle says this project wouldn’t have been possible without Iowa State’s collaborative and innovative culture.
“All the seemingly ‘weird’ things we do in studio courses and at the CCL are really about developing design knowledge and workflows that are flexible and can be adapted to contribute in unforeseen ways,” Doyle said. “As architects, our students are capable of imagining and engaging through design in an unprecedented and uncertain time.”