Albany County

Guilderland teacher puts 3D printing skills to work for Face Shield Project

Corbett is a technology teacher at Farnsworth Middle School
Max Corbett checks on the 3D printing process for the Northeast Face Shield Project at his home in Altamont. 
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Max Corbett checks on the 3D printing process for the Northeast Face Shield Project at his home in Altamont. 

Categories: News, Rising to the Challenge, Special Sections

GUILDERLAND — Max Corbett took his first steps into the world of 3D printing as a technology teacher at Farnsworth Middle School in the Guilderland Central School District.

Over a couple of years, it evolved into an at-home hobby, and it was through another hobby of his — skiing — that Corbett was able to find a way to put his 3D printing chops to work during the COVID-19 crisis.

Matthew Bramble of Niskayuna, the administrator of the Skiology Facebook group, was looking to turn his network of followers into a group that could find a way to provide reusable face shields for hospitals in desperate need of Personal Protective Equipment for front-line health care workers.

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Corbett, who lives nearby in Altamont, offered to help work on the prototypes of the headpieces for the Northeast Face Shield Project.

In the first couple weeks of the initiative, Corbett printed about 250 headpieces on his own, and the group — which is spread across the Northeast — recently delivered a shipment of 500 face shields to Good Samaritan Hospital in Ossining, with plenty more on the way across the region.

Corbett recently spoke to The Gazette to discuss his work with the Northeast Face Shield Project.

Q: First off, how did you get into 3D printing?

A: I’m a middle school teacher for Guilderland. I teach technology and we do a unit on CAD, which is computer-aided drawing. A couple years ago, we were able to acquire a 3D printer, so when the kids draw things, if there’s time we 3D print some of them and we talk about how that works. I ended up picking up a really inexpensive 3D printer about a year ago and just played with it at home, made a few little things here and there, fixed some stuff around the house with it.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: How did that translate into joining the Northeast Face Shield Project?

A: I enjoy skiing and I belong to this Skiology [Facebook] group that does weather and conditions at different slopes in the Northeast.

Since they closed all the ski slopes, the guy that runs that — Matthew Bramble — he switched gears and said “I’ve got a following here of 10,000 people, let’s see if we can 3D print some of these face shields” that he was looking at in the news. When he made the announcement that he was possibly doing that, I said “Hey, I’m in the Albany area, I’ll prototype some of these for you.” He found a few files online and sent them to me, and I 3D printed some and told him how they worked or if they didn’t work, how easy it was and how long they took. That’s kind of how I got involved, as sort of one of the pioneer 3D printers in the Albany area. From there, the group just grew and grew. We settled on a design that was standardized and he expanded it from New Jersey to Maine, I believe.

Q: What’s the process like for you on the production end?

A: I talked to the school and they let me take two of the printers home, so I have three running on my workbench right now. About every two hours I get seven [done]. It should be eight, but I always seem to have a problem where I forget to go out and get them, or one of them runs out of filament or needs a little tweaking.

The original design was done by a guy, I believe, in Sweden. He put three versions online — a Swedish version, a European and a North American. I downloaded that and started printing with it. It takes a spool of plastic, and it’s kind of like hot glue where it just heats it up and then squirts out a layer of it. Then the print head moves up a little bit, squirts out another layer and it builds it, layer by layer. It takes a while to 3D print. It can make one in about 45 minutes. Some people can do it a little faster, some do it a little bit slower. I think we have about 100 printers running [across the entire project]. It’s just constant monitoring, watching to make sure we have enough plastic. Sometimes they’ll pop off the print bed when they’re printing, so you’ve got to keep an eye on that. Basically, you run out there every couple hours, you start another one and away they go.

Q: As a teacher who can’t be in the classroom right now, how satisfying is it to be able to find an outlet to pitch in during this crisis?

A: I’m doing half a day’s worth of paperwork every day, because I still have to grade stuff and make assignments for the kids, so as long as I’m sitting around, it’s like “You know what? I can help out by making these face shields.” The health care workers, they’re on the front lines. [I’ll do anything I can] to help keep them safe, so in case I get sick or a family member gets sick, those people are healthy to take care of the people who need health care. Since we’re so short on supplies, why not 3D print some of those supplies if we can? Through the Northeast Face Shield Project, it just solidified everything and got it working.

Q: So it would seem like the more challenging part of this actually comes on the distribution end?

A: Anyone can 3D print a face shield. The hard part is, how do you get it to a hospital? You can’t just go and knock on the door and say, “Hey, here are these things I made.” They’ll kind of go, “Well, how do they work?” By having an organization where there’s printed directions and they’re prepackaged, they come presterilized, that is fantastic.

Q: With hospitals in desperate need of PPE, how important is it to provide something like this that’s reusable and easily cleaned?

A: They can be washed and sterilized a number of ways. Each [headpiece] comes prepackaged with three face shields, so they can wash the face shield a few times and then if they start getting scratched and kind of foggy, you can throw that one out and put a new one on the headpiece. The headpiece can be reused, and if they run out of face shields, they can be bought at a local office supply store. The headpiece is the 3D printed part that goes on like a headband, and the shield is clear plastic that’s got holes made by a standard three-hole punch.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: 3D printing is obviously something that’s become much more accessible to everyday people in recent years. Is it satisfying to see this as a way regular consumers can use something like this to play a part during this pandemic?

A: 3D printing’s been around since the ’80s, but it’s definitely reached a price point now where the average person can afford to buy one of these to play with it. Most people just download things off the internet and print things like desk organizers, or little toys for their kids, nameplates and things. Now, it’s like, “Holy cow, I can print something that can hopefully keep somebody safe.”

Q: What’s the next step going forward?

A: So far, all the plastic I’ve bought with my own money just to donate to the cause. There’s a GoFundMe page going, and I think we’re at $13,000 or $14,000 that we’ve raised [as of April 13] to help pay for these PVC shields, to offset some of the cost of the plastic and the gas needed to deliver them. There’s a lot of volunteer hours and volunteer donations going into it.

We’re raising money through our GoFundMe page, and if anybody has a 3D printer we’re looking for more people to print. Those are the two big things right now.

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