March 24, 2020 UT Labs Produce Face Shield Components to Protect Health Care Workers

In labs across campus, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, faculty and staff are fabricating face-shield headbands and other personal protective gear for use by Tennessee medical professionals in the fight against COVID-19.

Universities across the state are printing 10,000 headbands in response to a call from Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.In just three days, UT has fabricated about 1,200 face shield parts, which will be sent by air to a facility in Tennessee on Tuesday for preparation for use by medical professionals.

Craig Gillam at 3D printer in Fab Lab

Using 14 commercial-grade 3D printers in the College of Architecture and Design’s Fab Lab, a 20,000-square-foot maker space with advanced digital and analog equipment, a team is producing hundreds of headbands, which will be fitted with acetate shields.

“We have until noon March 24 to produce as many as possible,” said Craig Gillam, digital fabrication supervisor in the Fab Lab.

Tom Duong, staff supervisor in the Tickle College of Engineering’s Innovation and Collaboration Studio, had originally partnered with Helpful Engineering—a public partnership created in response to the virus—before the broader state-led initiative began to take shape. Duong has 20 machines running to print headbands.

“We’ll be working through the night and right up to the deadline tomorrow to help meet the need for these devices,” Duong said.

Uday Vaidya, UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composites Manufacturing and a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, is coordinating the work.

Vaidya said, “The entire UT community and its partners have come together in unprecedented ways. The turnaround for these parts has been amazing and will support front-line doctors and medical personnel.”

A team of more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students led by Alex Stiles, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, has been working day and night to contribute to the production of the headbands. Faculty and staff—including Doug Aaron, Chad Duty, Brett Compton, Caleb Rucker, and Matthew Young of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering; Chris Wetteland of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Mark Dadmun from the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Chemistry; and Vanina Ghossein of the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility—are working around the clock and have made key contributions to this critical effort.

Matthew Mench, interim vice chancellor for research, said, “The printing has been nonstop since Saturday. People have taken printers home so they can safely continue to print through the night. They are living out the Volunteer spirit to meet this challenge and help the community in a time of need.”

In addition to Gillam, other members of the architecture and design team include Nick Stawinski, Fab Lab analog supervisor, and Maged Guerguis, assistant professor in the School of Architecture.

“Everyone needs to do their part to help, and in the Fab Lab we have sophisticated equipment ready to be called into service. I’m honored that we can be involved to assist people at the front lines of this pandemic,” Gillam said.