The University of Central Florida, Orlando Health and 3D printing company Stratasys are leading an effort to rapidly 3D-print critical personal protective equipment to ensure supplies are available for local healthcare professionals in their fight against COVID-19.

At UCF, researchers in the university’s Prototype Development and 3D Print Lab have created new designs for use in state-of-the-art, continuous build 3D printers that allow medical face shields, and eventually multi-sized respirators, to be rapidly produced, up to as many as 1,500 a day.

While UCF created the designs, the production is carried out by Stratasys at other locations and then items are shipped to hospitals nationwide. The first shipment of 600 3D-printed, UCF-designed face shields arrived this week and were assembled onsite at Orlando Health to stock up their supplies.

UCF’s effort is led by Jack Stubbs, director of UCF’s Prototype Development and 3D Print Lab, and his team, at the Institute for Simulation and Training.

“Online there are some designs being passed around that I thought didn’t look very good,” says Stubbs. “So, I said, how about we redesign it and get it tested it out.”

The 3D-printed face shield design was tested and approved by Orlando Health’s corporate safety, infection control and supply chain teams, as well as by physicians and nurses at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

The lab’s respirator design is an improvement because it prints in the contour of the face instead of in a flat sheet, like current designs.

“With the respirator designs online, you have to take it off the printer and then basically heat it up with a hair dryer, fit to your face and do it effectively,” Stubbs says. “And I just thought that no one’s going to be able to do that and do it effectively.”

The design for the respirator is still being finalized, and after further testing, will be submitted for U.S. Food and Drug Administration certification.

Orlando Health is eager to get the help.

“While we don’t currently have a shortage at Orlando Health, hospitals need to have backup plans if crucial supplies run low or run out at some point,” says Michael Schmidt, Orlando Health’s Managing Director for Strategic Innovations. “Our goal is to contribute to the collaborative dynamic taking place right now around the world and offer one possible solution to protect healthcare workers in the near term until suppliers can shore up the shortages.”

Stratasys is using its continuous build 3D printers, which print constantly without requiring a person to remove each item produced and reload material, thus greatly increasing production capacity.

Stubbs and his team were able to work together remotely in the middle of a widespread effort to social distance to design face shields and respirator masks for continuous build 3D printing, as well as send the designs to their lab’s printer for prototyping.

The team members working on the project include Fluvio Lobo, principal research and development engineer, Jim Inziello, director of generative design, and Tres Sims, technical artist.

“It’s cool stuff,” Stubbs says. “It’s really neat when we work from home and have four different people be very productive and get things done. Basically, from start to finish in a day’s time, we were able to design, fit, prototype and test a medical mask. That’s pretty phenomenal.”

Stubbs received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Miami University and has worked in the field of custom medical devices for nearly 30 years, including heading the Medical Device Center at the University of Minnesota and overseeing projects for the U.S. Army Research Lab. Stubbs’ work has resulted in more than 50 patents. He joined UCF in 2015.

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