By: Kate Rogers, News Editor
Two students in the mechanical engineering program with the guidance of Assistant Professor Asheesh Lanba are using USM’s Maker Innovation Studio (MIST) to make personal protective equipment to send to hospitals in need.
Daniel St. Peter, a junior, and Berkeley Elias, a sophomore, helped Lanba to make more than 28 prototype face shields using the 3D printers in the MIST lab. They sent these prototypes to a hospital in Maryland, and are in the process of finding new ways to develop them faster.
Lanba reached out to the students who were on his Lasers and Materials Engineering research team before students were sent home, and Elias and St. Peter volunteered to help. St. Peter said he was already working the templates the day after Lanba reached out, and the next day they were in the lab working. They put together all 28 prototypes within 36 hours.
The shields are prototypes because they are not officially approved safety equipment. “They are better than nothing,” said Lanba. Some hospitals are not giving personal protective equipment to doctors who aren’t directly exposed to COVID-19 patients, even though they are all working in the same building, according to Lanba. Other hospitals are simply running out of supplies altogether.
Now the team is developing a new template that can be used with thermoforming equipment. This method of printing uses sheets of polymer that are draped over a mold, heated and then pressed, which is quicker than 3D printing them. Thermoformed Plastics, a company in Biddeford, is providing the MIST lab with the materials for this project, and in return, they are making prototypes for them to assess so that they can start producing them as well.
According to Lanba, almost 3 weeks ago the Maine Emergency Management Agency formed a committee with local healthcare organizations and companies, as well as the UMaine system in response to the COVID-19 situation. They were responsible for prompting the USM department to see if they could assist with making personal protective equipment if the need arose. “We have the capabilities to do it,” said Lanba. This committee has also been important for making connections that have been indispensable for the project, he said.
No other hospitals have reached out to them yet, and the Maine Medical Center says they are not in need yet. “We have been lucky because Maine had the privilege of taking preemptive measures… successfully flattening the curve,” Lanba said.
However, Maine Medical Center said that in a few weeks, the need may grow. Lanba said they are prepared to do more and are in the process of trying to connect with other medical centers.