Tyler Kerr wearing a 3D face mask

WTCC and UW Team Up to 3D-Print Masks for Hospitals

Tyler Kerr wearing a 3D face mask

Engineers, students, hospitals and volunteers collaborated at the University of Wyoming’s largest makerspace to create hundreds of 3D printed protective masks and face shields for frontline healthcare workers facing the COVID-19 crisis. They plan to produce hundreds more.

Computer Science Assistant Professor Lars Kotthoff first introduced the idea of 3D-printing medical materials to University faculty and staff. Using the 3,400-square-foot state-of-the-art makerspace in the College of Engineering’s Student Innovation Center, Kotthoff printed his first prototype using 3D printers. It did not form a good seal.

Around the same time, a nurse from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center had tested the same concept, but did not have the capacity to produce it at the scale hospitals currently need. He approached Tyler Kerr, coordinator of the makerspace, who started to produce the masks  on a large scale.

Working alongside a small staff of undergraduates and volunteers and with the support of the WTCC community, Kotthoff and Kerr have produced hundreds of masks and shields in just over a week. They use safety and quality standards established by hospital partners both for the final products as well as for their own working conditions. Their production capacity has already improved from 48 masks a day, with a target goal of 75 per day within reach.

Kotthoff discovered the Wyoming Technology Coronavirus Coalition (WTCC) through social media. Much like the efforts underway in the makerspace, WTCC is an initiative to combat the cascading impacts of the COVID-19 virus through partnerships and collaboration. He and Kerr are both members of the group.

“I’m so impressed by how this whole community has come together,” said Kerr. “My staff and students have risked their health, given up vacation and worked crazy hours. We’re united as a maker family. Then the WTCC has creative people coming from all over to solve this global problem. I’m in awe.”

The Student Innovation Center recently supplied 115 masks to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, and will soon supply 100 face shields. Kerr is currently working with Wyoming Medical Center in Casper and other private practices on fulfilling more orders.

Though 3D printed masks and shields are not substitutes for N95-grade masks, they are a reasonable backup when N95-grade masks are not available. Kerr’s team is prepared to take requests from any Wyoming medical provider, and he’s hopeful that they’ll be able to meet demand. Producing these items is relatively fast and cheap, and they’re continually improving processes.

The WTCC supports the makerspace by locating more printers, organizing supply drives and contributing the immense brain power of a statewide collaboration.

“This movement has been a lot like the virus,” said Kotthoff. “At first, nothing happened, nothing happened, then boom. We’ve been doing the same thing. Everyone came together and started working with that same exponential growth. In that sense, we have a fighting chance; we can grow as fast as the virus. Watch out, COVID.”

Medical professionals in need of 3D printed masks or shields may have their hospital or office administrator contact Tyler Kerr at 307-766-6460.