USC Iovine and Young Academy produces 3D-printed personal protective equipment for caregivers

Using its makerspace, the academy has delivered more than 400 laser-cut protective face shields and other 3D-printed gears to healthcare workers in two and a half weeks.

USC Iovine and Young Academy, in collaboration with the Viterbi School of Engineering and the Keck Medicine of USC, has mobilized the school’s makerspace to produce 3D-printed personal protective equipment for caregivers at Keck Medicine of USC.

“We realized we have all these facilities available and these wonderful machines, why don’t we utilize this to help in whatever way we can,” said Trent Jones, a recent Iovine and Young graduate who is part of the academy’s team producing the 3D-printed protective gears.

The academy’s team has produced more than 400 laser-cut protective face shields, as well as additional 3D-printed personal protective equipment like masks, using five printers in two and a half weeks. To produce the 3D-printed face shields, the team uses the open-source design of face shields from Prusa Research and further customizes the design to the specifications and feedback of caregivers at Keck Medicine of USC, Jones said.

"We utilized that [open source] as a resource to then figure out how do we either modify this so it works with exactly what we need, or what’s the best way we can optimize production for whatever we found, but we’ve switched back and forth depending on the scenario,” Jones added.

Jones said the team can cut out eight shields in a minute and 20 seconds while it takes a couple of hours to print one mask. He also added that the 3D-printed masks are beneficial in filling the shortage of medical masks for front-line caregivers because they can be reused.

"With the printed masks, hopefully, somebody could use this over time,” Jones said. “So that the amount that would need to be ordered for a group of people who are medical professionals would be lower over time seeing they have masks that they can now reuse.”

Tucker Rae-Grant, a digital fabrication lab specialist at the academy and a staff member of the 3D-printed PPE program, has been managing the production of disposable face shields and creating partnerships with other schools, local hospitals and outside medical facilities.

Even though the program is doing its best to contribute supplies to the frontline, the quantity that the 3D printers can produce is minimal compared to factory-produced masks, Rae-Grant said. “3D printers are clean, but they’re slow,” he said.

The team recognizes that the 3D printer’s rate of production will not be able to completely meet the demands for the masks. Instead, they are hoping that doctors can use them as a last resort for protection.

“The goal has never been to replace the commercially produced PPE,” Rae-Grant said. “It's just if you have nothing, it's better to have something like the face shield that we've been making.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti visited the Iovine and Young Academy Sunday and helped make 3D-printed face shields. The academy is a partner in Garcetti’s “LA Protects” initiative, which organizes the fashion and garment industry to make protective gear for front-line medical workers.

A spokesperson from USC Viterbi School of Engineering told Annenberg Media via email that Viterbi’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a research and test facility, has been collaborating with the Academy and the Keck Medicine of USC in printing 3D-printed protective gears.

“While we are printing materials, we are also collaborating with and sharing knowledge on designs and implementation with our colleagues at Keck and labs across USC at Viterbi, the USC Iovine and Young Academy and a network of individuals with 3D printers via the USC School of Architecture. It truly is a multi-school effort,” the statement reads.

The School of Architecture has a volunteer network to produce 3D-printed PPE remotely called #OperationPPE. As of April 6, the group with 207 volunteers and 200 3D printers has printed 1,156 pseudo N95 face masks and 575 face shields in less than a week, according to the updates on #OperationPPE.

“We are officially distributing to Keck Medicine, USC LA County Hospital, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and MLK Hospital in Watts,” the update states.

Neha Nanda, medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship at Keck Medicine of USC, said via email on Tuesday that Keck Medicine has sufficient PPE for staff and continues to follow PPE supplies across three hospitals: Keck Hospital of USC, USC Norris Cancer Hospital and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.

“We have received several donations from the local community and USC schools, for which we’re grateful,” the statement reads.

Clarification made April 7, 2020: a previous version of the story stated that the academy team produced “more than 400 protective face shields.” We have made it clear that the number is for laser-cut face shields, not 3D-printed.