WELLMAN — While Terra Huber, a STEM teacher at the Mid-Prairie Community School District, is used to helping students use new technology to solve everyday problems, she never anticipated she would be using the tech she teaches to make personal protective equipment (PPE) during a pandemic.
For nearly two weeks, Huber has been using the school district’s 3D printer to make parts for face shields. The teacher explained the process of her printing parts began after Washington County’s emergency management coordinator, Marissa Reisen, reached out to local districts who might have the equipment to contribute to the Iowa COVID Rapid Response Network and help print PPE to address a statewide shortage.
Mid-Prairie Community School District, which owns two 3D printers as part of its Innovation Lab, donated the use of its printers as well as the plastic filament used to make the face shield parts for the effort. Currently, Huber is operating the printers from home.
“If there are no jams, I can print out five masks per day. It kind of varies. Sometimes it has a jam and I’ll work through some problem-solving steps. Usually I can average five,” Huber said.
After printing is completed, Huber drops the parts she has created in Iowa City for nonprofit, The New Bohemia Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo), who help sanitize and assemble the actual shields. After assembling the shields, the nonprofit also distributes the equipment to various health care organizations in need.
“The one I’m printing is called the bybird. It’s kind of like a visor that rests on the forehead and sticks out about two inches, which the actual shield can be taped to,” Huber said.
The teacher added that these 3D printed masks can be sanitized and reused, but are not meant for permanent use.
“They’re to fill the void until our health care workers can get supplies. It’s taking longer for those things to get to Iowa, so we’re trying to fill that gap. We were in conversations about when they will get supplies, and it looks like it’s going to be another week or so, so we’re still full on printing,” Huber explained.
In addition to the face shield, Huber is also helping to make clip straps that aim to relieve pressure on health care professionals’ ears when wearing masks.
“That’s how it originally started for me. It came about on social media. They were looking for different types of straps and my kids are big swimmers and old goggle straps worked really well. So I was in the process of doing that kind of stuff,” Huber said.
The STEM teacher added she’s glad to be able to contribute to the effort.
“I definitely didn’t think we’d be using the printers to help in this way during a pandemic. One of our goals at Mid-Prairie is looking at current problems and developing solutions. We encourage our students to be problem seekers and problem solvers. Being able to help in this big of a way, it’s great to feel we’re able to make a small difference, even if it’s just for a handful of nurses or EMTs,” Huber said.
Those who are able to help with the 3D printing effort or health care organizations in need of PPE can reach out to NewBoCo at https://newbo.co/ppe/.