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Innovation, Collaboration Lead to Creation of Face Shields for Health Care Workers

Elastomer Center SignA cross-campus effort, led by Ferris State University's COVID-19 Community Response Team, has brought about the production of face shields to be used as personal protective equipment by health care professionals. The first units produced saw headbands generated by a 3-D printer, with shields created from overhead projector transparencies donated by faculty members.

Personal protective equipment shortfalls have brought about designs to outfit health care workers who serve people in need in an attempt to limit further spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Ferris State University’s Laboratory Facilities Coordinator Brian Pacholka, from the College of Engineering Technology, was eager to support that cause, when an emeriti member contacted him on Sunday, April 5.

“I heard from Clayton Rye, a former Television and Digital Media Production professor,” Pacholka said. “He asked if our Plastics and Rubber lab might be able to produce this kind of equipment. I consulted with peers, which brought about the design of a plastic injection mold blank, to create the headbands for face shields.”

A mold blank consists of around a half-ton of metal. The transportation of the sizable unit posed issues on Monday, April 6 at Roben-Hood Airport in Big Rapids. A private aircraft was scheduled to transport the mold to a Lapeer, Michigan tool shop.

“We had enlisted the help of Big Rapids Towing, who volunteered to bring a Skytrack, to try and place the mold in the plane,” Pacholka said. “After speaking with the pilot, it became clear the mold’s mass was too much payload to be flown out.”

Jim Dunkel, the owner of Big Rapids Towing, stood ready and willing to serve the community, state and country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I assured Brian we could put the mold on a truck, and haul it to the shop in Lapeer, saying ‘We could have it down there in three hours,’” Dunkel said. “A project of this nature is certainly worth my time and effort. When it comes to the opportunity to support our community and country, and those working in public health, heck yes, I am going to be involved in it.”

Pacholka was appreciative of the community’s collaborative spirit.

“It was amazing that in the span of eight hours, we were able to move the mold from our lab to the tool and die shop in Lapeer,” he said. “We want to express many thanks to Big Rapids Towing for jumping on this and helping out. In the next week, we hope to be able to begin using this mold, to turn out a headband per minute.”

While the cavity for the headband is cut into the mold, across the state, Pacholka said that Product Design Engineering Assistant Professor Luke Hedman has been using a 3-D printer to produce headbands.

“Luke has really been getting things done, while our larger operation is prepared for production,” Pacholka said. “He has been our intermediary with Operation Face Shield, which will distribute these masks to health care operations across Lower Michigan. His first headbands and face shields have gone out to the Mecosta-Osceola Health Department of Health and Human Services, with another 50 shields distributed to the District 10 Health Department, to protect health care workers in our region. All this assistance from Luke will greatly facilitate our ability to help meet the need for personal protective equipment.”

Face shields also have been delivered, locally in Big Rapids, to Metron and Ferris alumna Dr. Emily Coles, at Big Rapids Family Eyecare. Additionally, Cherry Health, in Grand Rapids, received face shields and new cloth masks.

Ferris’ COVID-19 Community Response Team has supported this project in a variety of ways. College of Pharmacy Professor Kim Hancock and Associate Professor of Clinical Laboratory Sciences Daniel DeRegnier tested the headbands, to assure they could be sanitized with isopropyl alcohol. Team members Michele Albright, Kara Eagle, Janette Ward and Karen Weber joined Emmanuel Jadhav, an assistant professor of Public Health, to assess the PPE needs in the local public health community. Emily Zoet, an adjunct professor of Accounting, created an order form process to track the distribution of masks created on campus.

Pacholka said Ferris’ COVID-19 Community Response Team chair Jennifer Dirmeyer, an assistant professor of Economics, deserves much credit for her comprehensive support and leadership of team activities. He added that there are adequate materials on campus to make a significant contribution to the regional need for personal protective equipment.

“Some of our first shields have the transparencies from overhead projectors across campus, which were collected when the project began,” Pacholka said. “We have a Grand Rapids-area contractor who will produce a thicker shield when our production ramps up. With 1,500 pounds of available material for headbands, we should be able to produce thousands of units and contribute to achieving Operation Face Shield’s goals.”