Due to the spread of COVID-19, many healthcare organizations are facing shortages in personal protection equipment for their employees. Virginia Tech students and professors have come together to find a solution.
Amar Mohanty, a 2020 graduate majoring in mechanical engineering, recognized the lack of personal protection equipment that medical workers had access to in order to fight COVID-19 on March 27.
“I was really frustrated with the situation because healthcare workers were risking their lives every single day to take care of us, and we couldn't provide them the proper protection,” Mohanty said. “I began researching online to figure out how I could help, and I landed on making face shields.”
According to Mohanty, face shields shelter healthcare workers from coughs and sneezes that could lead to infection. Also, Mohanty selected face shields as his focus, because he saw them as a product that could be produced quickly without a complex process.
Recruiting Minh Pham, a 2020 graduate majoring in industrial and systems engineering, and Josiah Eichelman, a 2020 graduate majoring in mechanical engineering, Mohanty and his two peers deliberated on the best method to produce face shields.
“We were inspired by the face shield production efforts by University of Wisconsin-Madison and New York University and thought that a similar effort could definitely be initiated at Virginia Tech,” Pham said.
By March 30, the three-person team evolved into 11 students.
At the time, this 11-person team was known as Student Shields. They collaborated with Alexander Leonessa, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering professor. However, Student Shields merged with other organizations within Virginia Tech that had similar goals. Together, these groups form the “Virginia Tech COVID-19 Response Team.”
“Our group is working to utilize personal as well as university resources to quickly produce inexpensive, easy-to-build and versatile (one-size-fits-all) medical face shields to give to health workers,” Pham said. “In order to do so, we focused on two main goals: output and quantity.”
Recognizing the urgent demand for face shields, the group found face shield designs online and worked on adapting those designs to effectively serve the needs of medical workers. Overall, the team wanted to create face shields that would be practical and easily cleaned for medical workers.
“We are building hundreds of face shields each week,” Mohanty said.
The face shields are being created by equipment from the Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls (TREC) Lab and the Virginia Tech Honors College. Originally, the materials used for production were acquired from stores near campus, like Hobby Lobby and Lowe’s. Now, materials are ordered in bulk from more online sources, like Amazon and eBay.
Upon completion, the face shields are being delivered to medical centers, including hospitals and emergency services. While the Response Team has a focus in the New River Valley, the team has helped and is planning on helping multiple medical centers throughout the state of Virginia, such as St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, in need of face shields.
In addition to face shields, the Virginia Tech COVID Response Team is working on manufacturing nasal swabs for coronavirus testing.
Before the face shield project began, Mohanty and Eichelman’s Senior Design Project was canceled due to COVID-19. The face shield effort did not replace Mohanty and Eichelman’s Senior Design Project. Simply, the pair, with other students, wanted to help during the current pandemic with their abundant free time.
And now, you can help too.
If you have a 3D printer, you can follow the instructions posted to www.ictas.vt.edu to help manufacture face shields.