Bridget Pelaez oversees a group at Florida International University that can be deployed quickly to emergency situations.

The FIU-Florida Advanced Surgical Transport, or "FIU-FAST," team of highly trained and experienced disaster-response medical professionals works with the Florida Department of Health, the state office of emergency management, and the Governor’s office to ensure that assets are deployed where they are most needed.

Last week, Pelaez's team delivered a set of 3D-print reusable face shields  to protect health workers treating coronavirus patients at Baptist Health South Florida. The shields will be used throughout Baptist Health's 11 hospitals and more than 150 urgent care centers and physician offices in the four-county area from Monroe to Palm Beach counties.

The first printing of the prototype shields began on Saturday, March 21, just one day after the idea was presented to the staff and students. Architecture students, working from home, began with an open-source face shield design and then modified the blueprint, collaborating with Baptist Health leaders to ensure that the 3D-printed protective equipment met the specifications appropriate for patient care.

The face shields, made from non-toxic polylactic acid (PLA), act as a first line of defense for healthcare workers. The shield is worn over a medical mask to preserve the mask's longevity, as well as prevent infected respiratory droplets from entering a worker’s nose and eyes.

As a nurse and Assistant Director for Emergency Management at FIU, Pelaez knew that the university had the talent and technology to support medical professionals currently caring for coronavirus and COVID-19 patients.

"We at FIU had skills and resources capable of helping our state and nations front line workers," Pelaez told Tech Briefs. "We received a list of supply concerns from Baptist Health and were able to discuss the face shield and modify the open source."

FIU's College of Communication, Architecture, + The Arts (CARTA) mobilized the school's more than 30 3D printers to meet its objective of building a minimum of 1,000 face shields for Baptist Health.

One face shield takes between 4-5 hours depending on the machine, and assembly time is about 10 minutes.

By this afternoon, the team will have printed 350 face shields, says Pelaez.

In an interview below, Pelaez tells Tech Briefs why 3D printing is such a valuable technology in a global crisis.

Tech Briefs: How did you modify the open-source design?

Bridget Pelaez: This FIU face shield design is a modification of an open source design found on the Tikkun Olam Makers  web site.

FIU has made five changes to the original design: 1) We modified the end-shield attachment nubs on the 3D-printed head band; 2) eliminated the holes used to hold the bumper at the bottom of the shield; 3) added the FIU logo; 4) used a standard presentation cover for the shield; 5) and used Velcro instead of elastic.

Once the design changes were made, I took the prototype to the [Baptist Health] BHSF quality board and the personal protective equipment (PPE) was approved by their infection control board.

Tech Briefs: How do you ensure that the products work effectively as-printed? Are there any challenges there?

Bridget Pelaez: Each print is examined before coming off the printer, and each piece is hand-fabricated to remove excess PLA. The materials such as velcro and acrylic sheets are very durable and trustworthy. We look for uniformity in all shields prior to packaging. The extruders used to heat the filament need replacing from time to time. The lab assistants work to ensure printers are running optimally.

Tech Briefs: Why is 3D printing such an important and valuable manufacturing tool in these times?

Bridget Pelaez: 3D printing allows for innovation during supply chain disruptions, which allows us to mitigate healthcare workers needs and gives us time to help the healthcare work force adapt and overcome.

Along with Pelaez, FIU's team includes dean of CARTA Brian Schriner; John Stuart, CARTA associate dean of cultural and community engagement and executive director of CARTA's Miami Beach Urban Studios (MBUS); Colette Mello, senior special events manager, MBUS; Jacqueline Thompson, program manager, MBUS; and students Brett Serfozo, Raymond Reina and Diana Vazquez, all of whom are pursuing master’s degrees in architecture.

What manufacturing efforts have you seen recently to support the COVID 19/coronavirus response. Share your questions and comments below.