A DePaul Professor Uses 3D Printers To Make Face Shields For First Responders

A group of Chicago-area educators pitched in to dream up new ways to create protective face shields for health care workers.

Face shields
DePaul University Professor Jay Margalus, left, and DePaul student Michael Koenig, right, load up 3D printers to be distributed for printing face shields for health care workers. Courtesy of Illinois PPE Network
Face shields
DePaul University Professor Jay Margalus, left, and DePaul student Michael Koenig, right, load up 3D printers to be distributed for printing face shields for health care workers. Courtesy of Illinois PPE Network

A DePaul Professor Uses 3D Printers To Make Face Shields For First Responders

A group of Chicago-area educators pitched in to dream up new ways to create protective face shields for health care workers.

When DePaul University Professor Jay Margalus learned in March that his Maker Hub design and innovation workspaces would be shut down because of the novel coronavirus, he wondered how he could put all his high-tech equipment to use to help during the pandemic.

His 3D printer jumped out at him. Margalus found a pattern for a face shield that could be printed and gathered a team to print them from their homes.

“I drove my minivan downtown [to DePaul] and filled it up [with printers] and drove around the city and suburbs and delivered things to folks who said they could help,” Margalus said.

Doctors and nurses wear face shields to protect their own health, as well as their N95 face masks, which are in short supply. The shield protects any transmission of liquids or vapors from a patient when they’re being tested for the coronavirus or being intubated.

“What the clear face shield does [is] it prevents the liquid from getting onto the N95s and extends the life of those things,” Margalus said.

The group is called the Illinois PPE Network and includes staff and students at so-called “maker labs” across the city, including at the Museum of Science and Industry, Northwestern University and the Harold Washington Library. Health care workers across Chicago and the world have received these shields, including doctors and nurses at University of Illinois Health, Cook County Hospital, La Rabida Hospital, Swedish Covenant Hospital, Weiss Memorial Hospital and Sinai Health System.

But it can take a 3D printer two and a half hours to make one face shield.

So, Chicago Public Schools teacher Jeff Solin paired up with a University of Chicago doctor to design a shield that can be mass produced by a manufacturer and easily assembled.

Solin spent a week developing new prototypes that the doctor would pick up from his house, try out and return with notes. Originally, Solin made the shield too long, so when a doctor leaned over to intubate a patient, it would come off. It took about eight tries to get a shield design that worked, which he ultimately called the Solin Flat Pack face shield.

“[The doctor] would thank me and all I’d want to say is, ‘Please don’t thank me. Thank you for trying to keep people alive,’” Solin said.

face shield
Doctors and nurses at a downstate hospital express their gratitude for the face shields they received from the Illinois PPE Network. Photo courtesy of the Illinois PPE Network

The group partnered with a local manufacturer called Triangle Dies and Supplies to create a tool, which acts like a cookie cutter and stamps the design onto a sheet of plastic. Then, health care workers can punch out each piece and assemble them on their own.

With help from donations, the network has been able to get around 8,000 of the shields made by a manufacturer in Minnesota. They’re expecting a shipment of another 70,000 face shields in the next few weeks.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.