MSE steps up to take on the medical ppe shortage

Ph.D. candidate Brian Iezzi of the Shtein group is using a laser cutter to make face shields, while Professor Brian Love is looking into improving mask materials.
MSE steps up to take on the medical ppe shortage

Ph.D. candidate Brian Iezzi holds a face shield that he made with a laser cutter in the Shtein lab in NCRC.

Brian Iezzi: Taking on the face shield shortage with plastics and persistence

Several days ago, when a friend alerted him that a group on Facebook, Operation Face Shield Ann Arbor, was urgently looking for people with 3D printers to help make medical face shields, PhD candidate Brian Iezzi answered the call.

“We had the printer and they asked, so just helping where we can,” Iezzi said.

He moved the 3D printer from the Shtein lab to the basement of his home and, using an UM Medicine approved model created by a Czech company, started printing the shields. But the process was…so…slow.

“Even with the printer going pretty much nonstop, we were able to produce only two shields every six hours,” he said, noting that his brother, Matthew, who came to Ann Arbor from L.A., is assisting him. 

He then obtained special permission from CoE to work in NCRC using the Shtein lab’s laser cutter. Even though the laser-cut model is more labor intensive, Iezzi and his brother are able to produce 40-50 shields a day, an obvious improvement over the 3D printing method. 

As far as materials, Iezzi says they’ve had to be innovative. The 3D shield headbands are made of ABS or PETG plastic and the laser cut versions are made out of ABS as well. The shielding itself is plastic, too, usually mylar (PET) of a certain thickness to stand up to the sanitation process, but that specific mylar has been increasingly hard to find.

“They’ve been running out of stock almost everywhere and so we have started to have to experiment with alternative materials like PVC and polyethylene, which is where we’ve been able to help a bit in the lab,” Iezzi explained.

To date the Iezzi team has created close to 100 face shields, most of which are being distributed to local clinics, ambulance operators, and homeless shelters.

Iezzi said he likes having a purpose in the craziness of the pandemic and will keep producing the shields as long as they are needed.

"We have orders in for more materials supplies,” he said. “We know there is need for more shields locally and have gotten word from CoE that the printers and laser cutters may need to be put to use creating other devices soon, so we are playing it by ear to see how we can help.”

Click here to view a photo gallery of their face shield production.


Brian Love: Using 'McGyverism' to improve mask materials

Meanwhile, Professor Brian Love, along with faculty across the colleges of engineering and medicine, are trying to put in place options to either build crack new forms of masks and shields or resterilize and repurpose used personal protection equipment (PPE).

"This crisis need exists solely due to how many of these devices, originally intended for single use are being used up with tenuous stockpiles for resupply," Love explained. "Everyone has the same sub-suppliers and every hospital has the same issues."  

The issues of building new require assessing existing masks to resolve both how they are built and how to achieve the same performance standards with completely different materials. Other existing teams appear to be focused on the potency of various sterilization procedures and what shape the PPE tools are in after these exposures including chemical, radiative, and thermal approaches to deactivate viruses and bacteria. 

"Here is where a systems approach to materials engineering is really crucial," Love said. "It's not about making the best new mask, but more about what can we do with the existing materials landscape.  It's McGyverism at its core level." 

Kudos to both Brians for their commendable efforts!