By Dana Yamashita 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) has been, at times, difficult to obtain. Rensselaer faculty, students, and staff have put their knowledge and machinery to work making PPE for those on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Working from home or at campus facilities, a group of researchers began manufacturing hundreds of face shields in collaboration with Industrial Tool & Die Company, a private business based in Troy. An initial shipment of 370 face shields were delivered to Albany Medical Center at the end of April.

Faculty and staff distributed the on-campus 3D printers among their homes and offices to run and maintain them while adhering to social distancing protocols to create the shields. Production was based on an open source design from Prusa3D. Industrial Tool & Die provided an additional three 3D printers.

The next step is using the tools at the Manufacturing Innovation Learning Laboratory (MILL) to produce about 50 shields per hour, rather than a single face shield in one and a half hours using a 3D printer, using plastic injection modeling and laser cutting machines ordinarily used to teach students the elements of manufacturing.

Sam Chiappone, director of the MILL, said, “This is an opportunity to put into practice what we teach our students: how to go from design to reality to meet the needs of society. We all knew the power of the resources that we had available to us, and how we could help, and we’re proud to be able to move forward.”

While this group of faculty and staff were working on and around campus, a separate off-campus collaboration organized by members of The Forge, a student-managed maker-space at Rensselaer, was providing equipment to St. Peter’s Health Partners, as well as through a network organized by industrial 3D printer company Stratasys.

In mid-April, The Forge launched the Off-Campus-Resources Initiative, open to any Rensselaer-affiliated individuals. Within days, they accumulated a volunteer workforce of 18 current students and alumni.

Russell Roberts, the student leader of The Forge, said they have been running about 25 3D printers in homes around the country on a face shield design created by 3DVerkstan. He estimated about 300 face shields and ear savers — small devices that relieve the pressure masks put on ears — have gone to St. Peter’s and other hospitals along the East Coast.