College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Mechanical engineers fire up 3D printers, round up supplies to make face shields for Iowa hospitals

Taylor pulls a tray of 3D-printed halos out of a 3D printer. Taylor is wearing safety glasses, a face mask, and rubber gloves.

Caroline Hayes was in her office for more virtual meetings. But the chair of Iowa State University’s department of mechanical engineering said she really wanted to be back in the lab.

For the past two weeks, Hayes, department staffers and a few students still in town have been 3D printing and assembling face shields for Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames and other Iowa healthcare providers.

The challenge hasn’t been engineering expertise – there’s been plenty of that in the department’s Boyd Lab in Hoover Hall and its Additive Manufacturing Lab in the Black Engineering Building. Hayes, who’s also the Lynn Gleason Professor in Interdisciplinary Engineering, said the real hurdle to clear for the mechanical engineers has been finding the necessary supplies – rolls of clear plastic for the shields, spools of elastic for the straps, raw materials for every part and piece.

The engineers have two projects going: one involves 3D printing a halo headpiece, designed at Iowa State, then the halos will be delivered for the next stage of assembly elsewhere; the second, which was influenced by a design created by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is all about attaching foam headbands and elastic straps directly to plastic shields.

It has been a team effort to keep the printers running, tweak some prototype designs and complete assembly. Lab coordinators Josh Delarm (Boyd Lab) and Taylor Schweizer (3D printing lab) have been managing the teamwork. Iowa State’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) has also helped facilitate the partnership between the department and the hospital.

And so far, the efforts have resulted in about 1,000 face shields delivered to Mary Greeley Medical Center, nearly 2,000 more delivered to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City, and about 300 more for other facilities.

“We are incredibly grateful for Iowa State’s ingenuity and generosity. These face shields will be put to good use and will help keep our healthcare workforce safe,” said Brian Dieter, president and CEO of Mary Greeley. “We’re aware that Iowa State is working on several other initiatives, some that involve local and statewide industries. They are helping and they are helping others to help. We’re humbled by this support and it means a lot to our patients and staff.”

Hayes, despite the frustrations of the team’s searching campus and the internet for supplies, said this was a good project for her department.

“We’re working to keep healthcare workers covered – literally – and healthy,” she said. “We’ve been told the hospital could use 1,000 of these this week and next week. We’ll do our best to make that happen.”

Mechanical engineering’s face shield team:

  • Jim Dautremont, electronics technician
  • Josh Delarm, teaching laboratory coordinator
  • Caroline Hayes, department chair and Lynn Gleason Professor in Interdisciplinary Engineering
  • John Howell, teaching laboratory coordinator
  • Sarah Leahy, senior in mechanical engineering
  • Wyman Martinek, teaching laboratory coordinator
  • Craig Philipp, senior in electrical engineering senior (who works for the mechanical engineering department)
  • Nick Rieger, senior in mechanical engineering
  • Sandy Sayer, program coordinator
  • Cris Schwartz, associate professor
  • Craig Severson, teaching laboratory coordinator
  • Jim Shelledy, teaching laboratory coordinator
  • Taylor Schweizer, teaching laboratory coordinator
  • Plus, Juan Ren, assistant professor, donated face masks for the team