ST. CLOUD -- Medical workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in central Minnesota will soon be donning life-saving personal protective equipment made on the campus of St. Cloud State University.

Since Monday, faculty members in the Department of Environmental and Technological Studies have been using 3D printers and laser engravers housed in the department's Make-It Space to turn donated materials into face shields for CentraCare employees.

"We currently have 150 of them bagged and ready to go," Department Chair Kurt Helgeson said on Wednesday. "We've got another 120 that just came out of the printer this morning that we need to do some post-processing work with. And then we have another 120 in the machines right now. So, our first shipment of 400 will be picked up Thursday afternoon."

The face shield project is headed up by Helgeson, along with colleagues Chuck Hentges and Mark Schroll. Each shield consists of a plastic headband, constructed using a 3D printer. The headband attaches to a clear, plastic, 8x11 inch sheet, cut from a transparency to protect the wearer's face while performing COVID-19 testing or providing medical care.

Face shield (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)
Face shield (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)

"We tried heavier plastic (for the shield) but it was actually more uncomfortable for the user," Helgeson explained. "So, the transparency shield works really well. We're making two of those on our laser engraver for every headband. We make two so they can replace them, in case they get contaminated or dirty."

Each 3D printer can stack 15 headbands at a time, allowing them to be in production overnight. Helgeson says they have the ability to manufacture around 200 face shields per day - effectively filling CentraCare's request for 750 shields per week. The project is not in need of donated materials at the moment, but that could change in coming weeks and months.

"It's a great opportunity for us to use our skill sets and this equipment," Helgeson said. "And it's great to be able to help this community."

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