Putting design skills to work against coronavirus

Academy of Art instructor uses 3D printers to make face shields for hospital workers

Max Niehaus delivers face shields to a staff member at Saint Francis. (Courtesy photo)

Academy of Arts University Industrial Design Shop Manager Max Niehaus has joined the fight against COVID-19 by using 3D printers on campus to make face shields for health care workers at Saint Francis Hospital.

“We had all of our 3D printing machines sitting idle,” Niehaus said.

Typically utilized for creating prototypes of cars, furniture, toys and jewelry, about a week ago he decided to put the printers to work for public health.

“I started doing some research and found that there were dozens of designs out there in the online community,” Niehaus said.

“I found this one particular design from a Swedish firm called ‘3DVerkstan’. I downloaded that, 3D printed it and found that it was the simplest design with the fewest parts,” he added. “And then at around the same time I had made that prototype, we had heard from Saint Francis Memorial Hospital that they were interested in trying out some 3D-printed face shields.”

Niehaus and his shop staff printed four prototypes, which were delivered to the hospital Friday and tested by frontline health care workers. After receiving constructive feedback around issues with fit and fogging, Niehaus set to work on a modified design, with the goal of providing Saint Francis 100 shields by the end of the week.

Max Niehaus arrives at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital with prototype face shields for staff to test. (Courtesy photo)

“We’re going to go ahead and see how everything is received before we commit to making significant numbers, but we will likely continue to make multiple hundreds of these,” Niehaus said of the shields, which cost about two dollars each to produce.

“The idea is, if the demand is still there, we would move beyond just this local hospital and also move on to local first responders.”

Niehaus has asked his students who have printers at their homes to aid his efforts by producing forehead pieces and mailing them to his shop for sterilization and then assembly.

Hospitals in The City and around the country are desperate for supplies to protect their workers from infection as they prepare for a potentially overwhelming number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and are accepting donations.

The U.S. military is also using 3D printers to manufacture face shields for healthcare professionals, ABC News reported Tuesday.

mgorelick@sfexaminer.com

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