A group of Queen’s University medical students who started making personal protective equipment (PPE) on a 3D printer in April, have reached a milestone: 15,000 pieces of PPE produced.
“It’s all thanks to the team work and the support that we have from the community,” said Catherine Spagnuolo, a second-year Queen’s medical student coordinator for the group 3D PPE Kingston.
Spagnuolo says the project started in late March. Their goal was to alleviate shortages of PPE for frontline healthcare workers in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region.
“After the pandemic was declared and our whole nation went into quarantine, three of my colleagues, who are fourth year medical students now beginning their residence, started this initiative,” she said.
They reach out to the lead 3D printing technician at the Clinical Simulation Centre at Queen’s University, Jeremy Babcock, to pitch their idea to him and see what his thoughts were.
“Jeremy helped tremendously in the design of the mask, as well as printing prototypes and validating the prototypes,” Spagnuolo said. “From there, we branched out to other community members who have 3D printers who have graciously volunteered to 3D print for us. We provide the supplies and they print,” she said.
There are now more than 21 coordinators and 15 volunteers showcased on the 3D PPE site. The team has distributed 8,000 pieces of PPE, including face masks, face shields and ear savers, to frontline health care workers in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington region.
They also produce components to build isolation tents for ICU patients, currently in use at Kingston Health Science Centre, which reduce the risk of respiratory disease transmission.
The production line continues to expand, Spagnuolo said.
“We are now 3D printing FDA approved swabs for Covid-19 testing. Those are currently in validation,” she said.
Spagnuolo said the group is 100 per cent non-profit, fundraising all of their operating costs and donating everything they produce. Besides their public fundraising pages on GoFundMe and Humanity First, they’ve also won two grants from the University community, and a third-place cash prize from the McDougall Family Fund competition for community initiatives. Cumulatively they’ve raised over $30 thousand.
“We’re now starting to branch out to non-healthcare frontline workers as well,” Spagnuolo said. “Grocery stores workers, youth shelters, other vulnerable populations… We’re fairly open to any requests that we get.”
They’re also working to create a stock-pile of PPE in preparation for a second wave of the pandemic.
Babcock says it takes one hour to 3D-print a single face shield visor, and two and a half hours to 3D print one mask and filter insert and holder.
“Those are the most popular printed items within the group. We print a variety of other devices and they all have individual print time,” he said.
Spagnuolo said they’re planning to continue their work for the foreseeable future.
“We want to make sure that we have inventory in case the demand rises again. Right now the demand has been steady, or increasing with the gradual reopening of the province,” she said. “We’ve had some repeat orders, which has made us very very proud.”
She said the group is also discussing purchasing their own 3D printer, so they can establish themselves to continue the initiative long-term.
“Thus far, we have received tremendous support, we would really like to express our gratitude,” she said. “We couldn’t have fundraised or printed the amount we have without that support from the community.”