Engineering Students 3D Print PPEs

Two Loyola Marymount University sophomores have devoted much of their free time since the COVID-19 pandemic heated up in March to a labor of love — using 3D printers to program, produce and assemble face shields for the ultimate safety of LMU personnel.

With support from LMU Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering, Justin Hynes and Zev Melmed are nearing their goal of creating 750 shields for distribution to LMU healthcare workers and for faculty to use as personal protective equipment once in-person instruction resumes.

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One of the shields created by students, Justin Hynes and Zev Melmed.

The idea first came to Hynes in mid-March, as Los Angeles and much of the rest of the country began to shut down amid fears of soaring COVID-19 cases and PPE shortages. “Everyone was worried that the supply chain was starting to break down,” recalls Hynes, an electrical engineering major. “I thought we might be able to do something with 3D printers that could help hospitals.”

Hynes had minimal experience with the technology, so he approached Melmed about the feasibility of employing 3D printing to create the face shields. The two students had become close friends after meeting through LMU’s Program for an Engineering Education Community (PEEC), a living learning community for first-year engineering students. For Melmed, a mechanical engineering major, 3D printing has been a passion — he taught himself how to use the technology, has built his own 3D printers, and has worked in Seaver’s Rapid Prototyping Laboratory, assisting graduate students with their 3D printing.

Once Melmed confirmed the vision was achievable, Hynes approached the Seaver Dean’s Office. Associate Dean Nazmul Ula embraced the idea, helped the students gain access to the college’s 3D printers, and ensured the students had the support and resources they needed. After donating an initial batch to UCLA hospitals, the students set about producing 750 to be distributed to LMU healthcare workers and faculty.

Hynes and Melmed started with a publicly sourced medical-grade design, but once they embarked on producing the face shields for LMU, they began to modify it. The students redesigned the shell to make it more efficient so that it would print faster, using PETG — a strong but thinner plastic. “I’m constantly looking for ways to increase the printing speed or decrease the material used,” Melmed says.

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3D printer used to develop shields.

Following a period of fine-tuning, the students have settled into a groove and can now print each shield in about 30 minutes. They estimate their cost to be approximately $1 per shield — less than one-tenth of the cost of purchasing the face shields from an online retailer.

While Melmed was well versed in 3D printing, Hynes has received a tutorial from his friend that he sees as an ideal complement to his Seaver curriculum. “I’ve learned so much,” Hynes says. “It’s fun, it’s actual research, and it’s for a good cause.”