• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Adapting technology in a time of need

Local initiatives protect those on the frontlines in the war against COVID-19
A pair of 3D printers are shown producing components for face shields to be donated to local hospitals and clinics for use by healthcare providers. Kael Hankins, the network administrator for the Clear Creek Amana Community School District, produced the face shields as part of a Corridor area group using the devices to help alleviate a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment during the COVID-19 epidemic. (photo by Kael Hankins)

NORTH LIBERTY– COVID-19 is thought to spread primarily through close, person-to-person contact via microscopic respiratory droplets, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The droplets are released when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes, and can land in the nose or mouth of somebody close by, possibly even inhaled into the lungs.
While social distancing, the practice of keeping at least 6 feet of distance between people, has gained in popularity there are some who in the performance of their jobs are unable to distance themselves. Healthcare providers, by the very nature of their jobs, are in very close contact with people who may be infected and rely on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to shield themselves from droplets. The PPE of choice is the N-95 mask, a very close-fitting mask capable of blocking at least 95 percent of test particles (0.3 micron in size). While the CDC has recommended against use of N-95 masks by the general public, panic buying and high-volume use by medical professionals has led to shortages of what has become a critical item.
In response, other forms of protection, such as surgical masks and face shields (a headband with a piece of clear plastic attached covering the entire face) have been utilized. Again though, heavy demand has led to short supply for the frontline professionals who need them most.
Many people have volunteered to make cloth masks and other PPE for healthcare providers. Kael Hankins, the network administrator for the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Community School District, is one of a group utilizing 3D printers to fabricate face shields for distribution to local hospitals and clinics. Hankins said CCA’s industrial arts teacher, Steve Clark, was contacted by Kevin Wilkinson, with the Williamsburg school district, with a request for help in producing the items.
“Mr. Clark passed the information to me,” Hankins said, “and I’ve been working with the school’s printer and my own to produce what we can.”
3D printers use a process known as additive manufacturing to take a computer-generated design, and produce an object by adding layer upon layer of a material (typically plastic).
Hankins started printing on April 6 and had produced about a dozen full shields, along with many miscellaneous pieces such as ear relief bands (these bands, also known as ear savers, help to make wearing a mask all day long more comfortable.) as of Monday, April 13.
“Depending on the model and the particular printer, the printed portion takes from about two to about three-and-a-half hours to print. Assembly is very fast taking only a couple of minutes to add the replaceable shield, comfort strip, and rubber band/elastic band,” Hankins said.
The material for the face shields has come from his personal supplies as well as materials that would have been used by the students if school had been in session.
Hankins has largely been running a one-man shop, with some assistance from his son and CCA Middle School student Odin, and said on Tuesday, April 14, he was advised the group was halting the 3D printed portion of shield production. “We will keep things on standby for the foreseeable future and will probably continue printing parts as necessary,” he explained.
While non-essential businesses have closed their doors, by order of Gov. Kim Reynolds, there are still many places where face-to-face transactions are necessary, prompting the need for personal protection. Dennis Tallman, owner of North Liberty-based AlphaGraphics realized the need for a way to limit contact through a physical barrier.
“Our sign department has a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router/cutter for cutting acrylic signs and other custom shaped products. It was relatively easy to come up with a design that offers protection that could be produced quickly in-house,” Tallman said. The barrier, a free-standing piece of 24-inch wide by 36-inch high clear acrylic plastic has an 11 by 4-inch opening and can be produced at a rate of approximately 20 per hour on their Zund G3-2500M cutter.
“The shields caught on quickly,” Tallman said, noting they have been installed at local hospitals for patient check-in counters and other areas. “Car dealerships and financial institutions have also purchased the shields to limit personal contact during in-person meetings.”
County auditors have also been looking for a solution to protect voters and poll workers in the upcoming Iowa primary elections (in June) and the November general elections. The opening allows for ballot and ID information to be passed to the voter while maintaining a physical barrier between poll worker and voter while the size and portability make transportation, set up and storage easy.
“We were looking for something that would allow us to offer protection for our voters and workers in the upcoming elections,” stated Jones County Auditor Janine Sulzner in an Alphagraphics press release. “These shields provide a simple and easy solution.”
Over 500 shields have been produced since March 21, and Tallman said simplicity was key to the design. “Just common sense engineering. I had the idea in my head that people still needed to conduct face-to-face transactions, and a physical barrier may be good to have.” The shields are shipped with support legs unattached, but no tools are required for assembly as they fit easily into slots in the shield. AlphaGraphics is also able to fabricate custom shields as well, Tallman said. “Recently we have been asked for an entire building with several customer service stations to be fitted with protective shielding. This will require custom fitting and installation.”
AlphaGraphics was established in 2008 and is focused on leveraging today’s technology to provide businesses with complete solutions for their marketing communications needs.
“We are fortunate to have the ability to adapt and change our production capabilities to meet customer demand,” said Tallman. “Our traditional print and graphics business has slowed down because of the COVID-19 situation. We are glad to be able to react quickly and provide a solution that will help protect people during this pandemic.”
For more information contact AlphaGraphics at 319-626-3700 or email Tallman at dtallman@alphagraphics.com.