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Humans of Manufacturing: Heroes

Oklahoma State University Students Tackle PPE Shortage

In times of need, manufacturing is driven by a philosophy John Lennon said best, “There are no problems, only solutions.” Today, manufacturers have pivoted to produce the critical supplies and equipment necessary to battle COVID-19 at a rate never seen before. SME’s Humans of Manufacturing Heroes Edition tells the stories of the teams, companies and partnerships adapting to produce the tools needed to fight this global pandemic. Going behind the scenes to share how these once-in-a-lifetime transformations are happening and the people making it all possible.

A team of ENDEAVOR faculty, staff and students work in the ENDEAVOR lab to make protective masks and face shields for first responders and those in the medical field. (Photo/OSU)

As the saying goes, our youth are our future. And judging by the efforts of students from Oklahoma State University College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology’s (CEAT) ENDEAVOR lab, our future is very bright.

With an urgent shortage of PPE caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of faculty, staff and students quickly worked to prototype and manufacture protective masks and face shields that were donated throughout the state of Oklahoma.

Killian Bussey, a senior in electrical engineering technology who works at ENDEAVOR, saw a Twitter post where individuals from Italy were making protective masks for medical professionals and first responders. He talked to his supervisors and fellow electrical engineering technology student Jordan Fogg about the idea.

“I believed making the masks could have a fantastic impact on the community,” Bussey said. “The entire team here really cares about what we are doing, and wants to help as many people as possible.”

Dr. Hitesh Vora, matrixed professor at ENDEAVOR’s Digital Manufacturing Makerspace, and Dr. Brad Rowland, professor and manager of operations at ENDEAVOR, advised the team of students on their mask design and production.

“We are always inspiring engineering students to be adaptable and ready for the biggest challenges,” Vora said. “Their response to a challenge like COVID-19 really demonstrates this adaptability.”

When brainstorming the first prototypes, students worked to figure out what types of masks were really needed.

“When the pandemic hit, personal protective equipment quickly became hard to find,” Rowland said. “This was particularly true for the N95 mask. Our local first responders and medical professionals needed N95 quality masks.”

The team at ENDEAVOR used 20 3D printers around the clock to create printed filtration masks. The ENDEAVOR lab had such a large demand for masks that they asked Edmon Low Creative Studios, a studio that has 3D printing capabilities located in OSU’s Edmon Low Library, and the OSU College of Education, Health, Aviation and Human Sciences to assist with the project.

“Collaborations were very important to the design and production of the masks,” Rowland said. “Working with our colleagues at OSU accelerated the student’s mask development, because they learned and were exposed to different ideas for prototyping.”

Filtration Mask
An example of a filtration mask and the filtration media created by ENDEAVOR students. (Photo/OSU)

To create the prototypes, the team explored different mask designs and printed the most promising ones. The designs were then further modified to improve performance and protection.

“We threw out different ideas to each other, and then we printed the mask, tried it on and altered what we thought should be altered in the STL files to improve things like air flow,” Bussey said.

During prototyping the team looked at different materials to ensure user comfort. They factored in the products reusability and addressed supply chain issues and provided alternatives for filter materials.

The team made 20 filtration type mask prototypes using N90- or N95-rated filter material for individuals to wear and test, according to Rowland.

N90 or N95 masks are commonly used by healthcare professionals and filter out 90 or 95 percent of suspended particles in the air respectively. These masks can aid in keeping viruses away from an individual’s nose and mouth and because of this can aid in the protection of individuals caring for patients.

“You could cut one N95 mask into several small squares and place these into the air filtration portion of our mask. By doing this you could get several uses out of one N95 mask,” Rowland explained.

After the team created prototypes, they sent the designs to Dr. Paul Tikalsky, CEAT dean and professor, who then received design feedback from industry professionals.

“We had been working with the Stillwater Medical Center infection control team to improve our designs,” Tikalsky said. “The team was also sending filtration masks to the OSU Center for Health Science for evaluation and feedback.”

While the creation of the masks was impressive, what might be more impressive was the speed of prototype improvements to actual mask production.

Within three days a mask prototype could be designed and printed, tested and modified and then produced, all while maintaining quality control standards.

“Dr. Brad Rowland and Dr. Hitesh Vora have trained extraordinary engineering and engineering technology students to create open source solutions that could be rapidly adapted to meet the needs of the pandemic,” Tikalsky said. “I am proud that CEAT could contribute to the safety of those on the front lines.”

Tikalsky added that OSU and the ENDEAVOR lab are part of a national consortium of universities that are brainstorming and designing solutions to the most immediate challenges being faced during the pandemic.

Bussey believes that the use of ENDEAVOR to provide these masks showed the lab’s 3D printing capabilities and demonstrated the mission of OSU.

“Now that we are done prototyping, we have released our files to other colleges, technology centers and individuals with 3D printing capabilities so that they can help out with the mask shortage as well,” Bussey said.

The team has recently been assigned to produce all of the needed face shields for the Stillwater OSU campus for the 2020 fall semester.

Through it all, the health situation and necessary response is not lost on Rowland, “this is an extraordinary time, so we are trying to do extraordinary things.”

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