The Fab Lab of Patrick Henry Community College is starting in full force to respond to prevention measures for COVID-19: by making face shields for medical personnel treating patients.

“We reached out to local health care providers and found out that if the pandemic comes this way, there may be a shortage in the face shields, so we jumped together” to make some, said PHCC Coordinator of Community Development Programs Matthew Ratliff.

“We know at the Fab Lab we had capabilities of 3D printing, so we’re working with Sovah [Health, the hospital in Martinsville] on a couple of different prototypes to see what would work best for the facility.”

A fab (short for fabrication) lab is a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication through an array of flexible, computer-controlled tools. A 3-D laser printer makes solid, three-dimensional objects by laying down successive layers of material, guided by a digital file.

The face shields, which cover from forehead to chin, are meant to protect medical workers’ faces from any droplets from patients, such as through coughs, sneezes “or anything else coming toward their face.” Additionally, medical workers would wear filtering face masks underneath, Ratliff said.

These face shields are made of clear plastic, cut out by those laser printers, and are attached in four places on top to a headband that somewhat resembles the inside piece of a hard hat, Ratliff said. Each headband takes about four hours to print, and each printer can print two headbands at a time. Each face shield probably would be single-use, he said.

To make as many as possible, PHCC parked its mobile Fab Lab at the college’s Thomas P. Dalton IDEA Center in uptown Martinsville, plus brought additional 3D printers to the site, Ratliff said.

Ratliff, Marketing and Community Development Specialist Amy Reed, Fab Lab Coordinator Chris Wagoner and part-time employee Seraina Dailey are manning the equipment, he said.

The hospital is “asking for whatever we can do, and that’s what our goal is – at least 150” by producing at full capacity during about two weeks, he said.

“In addition to a national plea for PPEs [Personal Protective Equipment], we are a part of a National Science Foundation programs,” PHCC President Angeline Godwin said. “The Dalton IDEA Center is an official Fab Lab, part of a national network. That group has done a great job working with private industry and with the federal programs to design and provide rapid prototyping directives for 3D printing.”

Locally, there have not been any diagnoses of COVID-19, Godwin said, but PHCC is “making sure that our community is prepared. It’s a great opportunity for us to put into practice what we are teaching.”

She said that PHCC is in the process of asking health care providers what they need. “We don’t know at this time,” she said. “We are sharing our prototypes, so they can look and give us feedback. We’ll know in a few days what we’re making, for whom.”

The face shields will be made from raw materials the Fab Lab already has, Godwin said. “With what is in stock, right now we could make 200.”

When the materials are used up, PHCC will ask for help from the community to obtain materials for more, she said.

Being able to help out during the pandemic “is great,” Ratliff said. “We wanted to know what we could do to give back and to really help out those that are on the front lines while we’re not. It’s very rewarding, very uplifting to see the community come together and do what we can to help everyone out.”

“From what we hear from the best thinkers, we are about two to three weeks behind the wave” of COVID-19, Godwin said. “We hope this is all a big waste of time for us ,and we don’t have a breakout in our community that requires this, but we have to prepare for the worse.”

Any face shields not needed in this area will be donated to other areas – only well after the danger is gone, Godwin said.

Ratliff recommended that people in general look for “where they can be utilized – if there’s a talent they have that can be utilized somewhere, reach out to folks and see what they can do.”

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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