Working together (while apart) for Operation Face Shield

April 14, 2020

A finished headband sitting on the 3D printer. Photo by Justin Schell

by Danielle Colburn

Before the U-M Library buildings closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Shapiro Design Lab Director Justin Schell brought home the Design Lab’s 3D printer and filament, thinking he could put it to good use. He was right: Schell, and others in the area, are using 3D printers in their homes to print headbands for face shields in response to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in healthcare facilities. 

Kevin Leeser, an RN, started Operation Face Shield Ann Arbor, and from there, a group was born. Three weeks ago, this group didn’t exist. Now, they’ve donated over 5,000 shields to organizations around the Ann Arbor area. “There is a large network of folks able to assist, even from behind a computer,” Schell said.

Czech 3D printer company Prusa created and shared face shield designs, and the community worked together to adapt the files so the surfaces of the shields are cleaner and so the pegs that attach the shield to headgear can be punched with a standard three hole punch, making them easier to assemble and quicker to use in the American context. 

Schell said it takes him about an hour and a half to print one headband; the amount of printing time depends on the printer and materials being used. With necessary troubleshooting and calibration, he says he’s able to print six to eight a day. But he’s just one of dozens in the area who are printing. He’s also working with others to evaluate various designs, looking for ways to reduce print time and material used, and generally optimize the process without sacrificing quality.

After printing the headbands, Schell drops them off at Maker Works in Ann Arbor, where they are disinfected and attached to a transparent shield. Then, they are given to Operation Face Shield, which passes them on to its distribution network, or given back to U-M, which collects from a PPE dropoff site in the North Campus Research Complex.

a headband held in front of a computer screen
Over 10,000 face shields delivered...so far. Photo by Kevin Leeser‎.

Schell has also reached out to library peers in other cities, like Philadelphia, to connect them with makerspaces in their areas so they can work on similar projects locally. “Since I can only print out one every hour and a half, if that,” Schell said, “there are other ways that I can connect and contribute.”

Right now, the community feels that they’re just bridging the gap of a much greater need; they’re working on connecting to groups with ties to larger manufacturers, hoping factories can be retooled to produce these pieces at a larger scale. 

They’re continuing to print and donate, and waiting to lend their resources and expertise to other projects that may arise in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The College of Engineering has compiled a page on COVID-19 face shield specifications for those interested in getting involved.

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Last modified: 04/15/2020