Sourcewell is joining the army of innovators across the country in exploring new and creative ways to provide personal protective equipment to healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.
With the capabilities of 3D printers, Sourcewell is printing and constructing face masks and face shields. The printers are part of the Tech Mobile program for local schools, and the resulting PPE will be tested locally at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena.
Aaron Logan, consultant with Tech Mobile, is at the helm of operations to help provide a solution to a growing problem.
“Even though I’m the sole person producing this PPE, there are a lot of people behind the scenes,” Logan said. “It is definitely a team effort.”
Paul Drange, director of regional programs at Sourcewell, said a friend and employee at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena approached him with information about using 3D printers to make the much-needed masks. Knowing the Tech Mobile program owns two such printers, Drange put out the call. Simultaneously, other Sourcewell staff shared similar requests and articles that had specifications for each part of operational and effective PPE.
The Tech Mobile team soon learned of the need for face shields and found specifications to produce them using the organization’s two 3D printers.
Logan moved the printers from Sourcewell’s Staples office to his basement to comply with the statewide stay-at-home order and still continue production. He says he spends about three hours creating each mask. The filter holder that fits inside the mask takes an additional 30 minutes, and the face shield frame takes another 30 minutes, with additional assembly time.
The equipment won’t be fully functional until insertable filters and the elastic to hold the masks in place arrive in roughly a week, but that hasn’t slowed production.
Drange said once the masks are complete, they will be sent to Tri-County Health Care to be tested in its lab. Logan and others will continue to make adjustments to the design if standards aren’t met on the first try. Once they have the right combination, Drange said he wants to make them available to other regional hospitals, too.
“We’re really early in this process,” Drange said. “We’re starting with Tri-County to make sure we get the kinks worked out. But once we come up with a successful product, we want to mass produce these masks and face shields to make them available to even more clinics and hospitals throughout the area.”
Meanwhile, Logan spends long days with one printer making face shield frames and the other making masks and filter holders. While the printers are in operation, Logan spends his time cutting plastic forms and inserting them into the face shield frames and eagerly awaiting delivery of the filters and elastic pieces so he can move forward.
“I feel privileged to be working on this project for many reasons,” Logan said. “It directly supports those on the front lines of this pandemic. It’s a great way to support and provide a service for our communities using our resources in an innovative fashion. And, personally, I love helping people and working with these machines, so it was a no-brainer for me to take on this project.”
What is Tech Mobile?
Since 2014, Tech Mobile has provided a unique experience for schools and students throughout the Sourcewell region of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties. Originally a partnership between the Browerville School District, Central Lakes College, MState, and Sourcewell, Tech Mobile took to the streets, giving students exposure to industrial equipment and career exploration.
In July 2019, Tech Mobile was taken on full-time by Sourcewell. Building on its previous success, Sourcewell devoted a team of consultants to not only add more state-of-the-art equipment, but to work on standards connections and offer staff support — making it easier for teachers to embrace the opportunity.