Science teacher John Gundy worked on a bank of 3D printers at Incarnate Word Academy on April 2.
Science teacher John Gundy worked on a bank of 3D printers at Incarnate Word Academy on April 2.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Catholics schools join effort to make personal protection equipment for health care workers

Catholic high schools use 3D printers to make parts for face shields

Ben Young had been plugging away at an engineering project at Christian Brothers High School when the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak hit the St. Louis area.

Ben Young
The high school senior’s father, Dr. Dan Young, a kidney specialist with Midwest Nephrology Associates, found himself in a predicament. His office wasn’t able to quickly access personal protective equipment (PPE) for the staff, which was still seeing patients, including some who had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Orders for equipment would take months to arrive.

His dad asked for help finding an alternative. Ben found a design to make a visor for a face shield using a home 3D printer. He also has about 100 clear plastic sheets made from acetate, which are each attached to a visor and cover the entire face from the middle of the forehead to chin. He made an initial batch of 10 for his father’s office.

“With all the extra free time I have had from being at home, I wanted to figure out something I could do to help,” he said. “There are a ton of doctors who are around COVID patients every day — they’re the real heroes. I just want to help them and keep them as healthy as possible and help flatten the curve.”

A single visor takes about 12 hours to make. Young reached out to his engineering teacher Joe Henken, who also coordinates the school’s STEM program, to see if he could borrow a couple of 3D printers from school so he could ramp up production. His goal is to make at least 100 shields, which are being donated to Barnes-Jewish Hospital St. Peters.

Henken said that he’d been talking with others at the school about responding to the need for PPE when Young approached him. Henken also encouraged his student to switch gears and make this the focus of his capstone project for his engineering principles class.

“As a teacher, what better authentic experience would it be than to let him run with it himself?” Henken said. “Here’s a student who is doing this for his dad; and it could be a life-changing event for his dad.”

Young made a video showing the process of making a shield. He also made an appeal to CBC students, encouraging anyone with a 3D printer at home to help out.

Henken said his student’s initiative fits right in with one of CBC’s four tenets of its mission statement — to lead and serve. “We were going to do this as teachers, but he had the initiative to take care of it, and he’s run with it,” he said. “That’s leading by serving and that’s what I think is remarkable about all of this. This kind of ingenuity is ingrained in him. He’s capable of great things.”

Incarnate Word joins effort

At Incarnate Word Academy, several teachers also have joined the effort to make PPE using several 3D printers in the school’s new CCVI 150 STEM lab. A parent heard about a project by a St. Louis-based industrial designer and furniture fabricator to make supplies for face shields. Incarnate science teacher John Gundy and IT director Bryan Meyer jumped at the opportunity. The two, along with additional members of the school community have kept the printers running, splitting shifts to make accessories for the face masks around the clock. The parts are being donated to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis as well as other medical facilities in need.

They are running six 3D printers, making about 90 to 100 visor parts a week. A single piece takes anywhere from 12 to 18 hours to make, depending on the size of the printer, Gundy said. Each part, made of a plastic filament, costs just under $3 to make. The parts can be placed in a disinfection chamber and cleaned for repeated use.

“I go in the evening to take completed ones off and get new ones set up,” Gundy said. “One of the others goes in the morning and will do the same thing as well during the afternoon. We’re covering three shifts, so in a 24-hour period, we can make about 20 (parts).”

Gundy said they’ve been contacted by a teacher in Kansas City, as well as several Incarnate alumnae about how they can help. The school has set up a page (www.iwacademy.org/page/MaskFund) to accept donations to make the parts.

Principal Maureen Lovette said that their efforts have fit right in with the school’s mission of respect for life and the dignity of others. “This takes the charism of our Sisters (of Charity of the Incarnate Word) who started 150 years ago … and it’s still evolving. The needs are still there.”

The difficult part is that because of stay-at-home orders, the students are not able to come into school to work on the project themselves, she added. “If our girls were in school, they’d be the ones doing it,” she said. “But our community has stepped up and said they wanted to do this for others.”

“We’re going to keep making them as long as people need them,” Gundy said.

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