Manufacturing PPE for hospitals

At Pellissippi State Community College, MegaLab Director Andy Polnicki (left) and Workforce Solutions Director Todd Evans take a selfie with headbands they made for face shields using 3D printers. (Photo: Pellissippi State)

In addition to donating medical masks, gloves and other protective equipment from their healthcare education programs, a growing number of community colleges are now manufacturing some of that equipment to help with an expected shortage among hospitals due to a surge of patients infected with the coronavirus.

Tapping manufacturing equipment on hand, from 3D printers to sewing machines, community colleges across the U.S. are busy producing breathing masks, face shields and more that they plan to donate to protect nurses, doctors and other frontline workers.

Below is a sample of what some colleges are doing:

Using their resources

In Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community College also is using its 3D printers to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE). It is focused on making headbands to attach to face shields. Pellissippi State MegaLab Director Andy Polnicki is preparing the first shipment of 239 headbands to Austin Peay State University, which developed the prototype. Austin Peay employees will attach the headbands to transparent plastic face shields for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, which will distribute them to healthcare facilities and professionals who are facing shortages of equipment. 

Teri Brahams, executive director for economic and workforce development at Pellissippi State, said the effort is a “perfect utilization of campus resources that would otherwise lie dormant during this period.” Like most colleges across the country, Pellissippi State has closed its five campuses amid the coronavirus pandemic. At its MegaLab, the entrance and nearby restrooms are on a daily cleaning schedule to ensure the space remains disinfected for essential personnel.

In Colorado, the IDEA Lab at Red Rocks Community College is using its 3D printers to produce parts that would make one ventilator serve two patients. The lab and the college’s theater department also have teamed to make medical masks, bringing in a local 3D printing company to help. The team is working on an injection molded reusable face mask that uses HEPA filters from indoor air purifiers, according to the college. The HEPA filter fabric will be replaceable and can be removed when the face masks are cleaned. 

Volunteering over spring break

At Big Bend Community College (Washington), members of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for community college students, spent spring break making protective face masks that will go to Samaritan Healthcare, which asked for help.

“We were wanting to do something for the community that we could do from home, without needing to gather in a large group, and then over the weekend we read that nonmedical-grade masks were being advised,” said Octaviano Gutierrez, the college’s PTK advisor. “One of the PTK officers and I started checking out some tutorial videos, and then we found out that Samaritan was actively seeking donations of these masks.”

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.