Washburn University Professors Aiding Health Care Workers during COVID-19 Pandemic

Washburn University professors are using 3D printers to help produce personal protective equipment for health care workers.

Manufacturing Medical Mask Clips

Two Washburn University education department professors are using the department’s 3D printers to manufacture 2,000 medical mask clips for employees at Stormont Vail Hospital and 200 for the Kansas Neurological Institute, both in Topeka, Kan. The clips, also called “ear savers,” hold masks in place to prevent irritation to ears after prolonged use.

Dr. Cherry Steffen, professor and chair of the Washburn University education department, and Dr. David Pownell, assistant professor of education, found the idea when researching various ways the tools they had on-hand could be used in the efforts to combat COVID-19.

“Dr. Pownell and I discussed how we would love to be able to do something more to help during the pandemic,” said Dr. Steffen. “When I found a plan to manufacture medical mask clips, we thought we have the necessary materials and equipment to accomplish it, and it is something that we can do while we continue to prioritize our students and complete the semester.”

Steffen reached out to Stormont Vail to see if the clips would be of any use to them and the hospital quickly responded that 2,000 would be of great help. Upon learning of the clips, the Kansas Neurological Institute requested 200. The initial printing material was on-hand in the department and the rest required for the project was donated. Steffen and Pownell expect to complete their printing early next week.

Traditionally, these four 3D printers are used by students in the Washburn University education department STEM methods classes.

“Our students learn to code using the TinkerCad program and then print things that they create on the 3D printers,” said Dr. Steffen. “The goal is to teach our future teachers techniques they can use to teach their students to code and use the printers in their future schools.”

“We have also used them during the Washburn University education department summer STEM camps to teach those students coding, computer-assisted design (CAD), and 3D printing. We also take these printers to some of our partner elementary schools to teach the students in those schools.”

3D printing has many applications and can be used in subjects from STEM to art. Many students in the Washburn University art department use a 3D printer for things like modeling and design.

Washburn University Art Department Professor Printing Medical Face Shields

Wonjae Lee, assistant professor of graphic design, has repurposed the 3D printer he uses to teach Washburn University art students to print Prusa face shields. The face shields Professor Lee produces are being donated to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

“I am partnering with a high school robotics group in Overland Park. These students and other competitive robotics groups in the area jumped in at the start of the pandemic to help K.U. Med employees by printing personal protective equipment,” said Lee. “It was only natural for me to support their efforts.”

Prusa face shields were specifically designed to help meet the shortage of medical face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The design of the shields is fully open-source, anyone can produce it and/or modify it. The shields are made from easily accessible and inexpensive materials.

“Many digital fabrication communities have been using 3D printers to produce various designs of protective shields,” said Lee. “One of the most exciting aspects of the process is that the current shield designs are continually being improved by engineers and designers. Design communities are not only printing the shields but also perfecting the optimal design for safer and faster printing time.”

Digital fabrication, which teaches CAD and 3D design principles, is among the subjects Lee offers Washburn University students. He’s excited to begin offering 3D modeling and 3D printing classes in spring 2021.

The motto at Washburn University is “non nobis solum,” meaning “Not for ourselves alone.” It speaks directly to the university’s founding principles, and to the spirit that is alive in students, faculty, and staff today. A spirit that is illustrated in the Washburn community’s response to COVID-19.