A multi-year Picatinny STEM outreach effort to provide 3-D printer training to New Jersey schools inadvertently laid a foundation stone for an initiative by students and teachers to manufacture thousands of much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) items.
The items have been delivered to hospital workers and law enforcement personnel in New Jersey, which has the second largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States. Items have also been delivered to hospitals in Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C.
Manufacture of more PPE items using the 3-D printing technology continues. Materials used to produce the equipment are often funded through private parties, but it is the effort by the teachers and the students that have produced the equipment.
Here’s how it happened
The Picatinny STEM office has been reaching out to area schools for several years to provide 3-D printer training. For the last six years it has hosted 3-D printing workshop annually. Its participants have included local art teachers and robotics club mentors from local schools, according to Shahram Dabiri, an engineer at the Combat Capabilities Command Armaments Center who serves as the Picatinny STEM Educational Outreach Office manager.
A recent example of these 3-D printing workshops was in January, when Picatinny’s STEM office invited a dozen local teachers for two days of instruction. The purpose was to show teachers how to properly set up, operate, and maintain their printers.
The workshop also instructed teachers on computer-aided design software, online resources to create 3-D-printed projects and how to access lessons that may be included in classroom curricula.
The 3-D printing process builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design model, usually by successively adding material layer upon layer, which is the reason why 3-D printing is also called additive manufacturing.
With the increased availability and affordability of three-dimensional visualization and additive manufacturing tools, the opportunity to bring these technologies into the classroom has never been greater, Dabiri said.
“We found that teachers were telling us their principals were buying the printers for the schools but they did not come with instructions, and they didn’t know how to use them,” said Dabiri.
Providing the training opens the door for hands-on STEM education. Students learn advanced computer-aided design principles and the training supports teachers in their professional development.
Students and educators spring into action
While the COVID-19 pandemic increased demand tremendously for personal protective equipment, the limited supply created shortages throughout the United States and in the New Jersey region.
The impetus to produce personal protection equipment started with an email exchange late on a Sunday night. A request from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School student Rohan Sawhney to help make PPE – specifically face shields for healthcare workers -- was sent to James Hofmann, a STEM teacher and robotics coach at Newton High School.
Hofman attended the January 3-D workshop at Picatinny. The Picatinny STEM program has also supported Newton’s robotics teams for a number of years.
The ensuing effort sparked by Hofman, named “PPE Made in America,” had a goal of making 1,000 face shields locally, using 3-D printers to make the headband portion.
Several neighboring high schools with robotics teams and 3-D printers -- normally robotics competition competitors -- began to pitch in. Also, several area businesses started to pledge their support with donations. Hofmann took it a step further, creating a crowd funding source to help raise money online.
So far the output has far exceeded the goal.
To date, the schools have raised more than $41,000 and printed more than 26,000 face shields which have been distributed to more than 50 organizations, including the New Jersey State Police, hospitals, medical centers, nursing homes, and other locations.
Dabiri has received a steady flow of information from the teachers to demonstrate the success of the effort.
“1159 (The Newton FIRST Robotics team number) completed face shields that can be reused over and over (that) have been hand-delivered, and shipped as far away as Delaware and Baltimore, and Washington DC Veterans Hospital,” Hofman said.
“University Hospital in Newark, which has been known as ‘Ground Zero for New Jersey' outbreak, has accepted 425 and has put them directly into service,” Hofman said.
“The Mount Olive High School and Warren Hills High School effort put out 10,000 face shields today, with another 5,000 tomorrow and then another 5,000 by next Wednesday before we shut down our operation,” David Bodmer an educator at Mount Olive said on April 10.
Previously, the two schools had shipped 600 3-D printed face shields and donated 1,500 sheets of plastic to make any additional 6,000 shields that were delivered throughout the region, according to Bodmer.
As the pandemic continues to escalate, more and more students and educators are getting involved.
Dabiri expressed pride in the work being done, assisted in part by his reaching out to his network of more than 400 educators to help propel the movement.
It takes approximately two and a half hours to print the materials needed for one face mask, according to Hofmann.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day,” Dabiri said. “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
“They are buying their own plastic, and making all the materials,” Dabiri continued. “All we (Picatinny STEM) did, was we taught them the tools they need to be proactive and to create. We gave them the tools of genesis. We brought the light. That is why the logo for the STEM office is the Promethean flame. We just brought the light. The rest seems to just happen on its own.”
Previous stories about the 3-D Printing workshop in February can be found here: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqQrbLFukpM),