NEWS | April 23, 2020

Printing to Protect: 3D Printed Face Shields Help Joint Fight Against COVID-19

By 2nd Lt. Benjamin Aronson, 15th Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL-HARBOR, Hawaii -- In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, medical personnel across the United States are struggling to perform their jobs due to a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

One of the main shortages of PPE can be found with face shields, a head piece with a transparent shield covering the wearer’s face and separating them from the ill.

Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps service members on Oahu joined forces to help health care professionals at Tripler Army Medical Center by using 3D printers to make face shields. 15th Wing Airmen at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Airmen delivered the first batch of face shields to TAMC April 3.

The 15th Maintenance Squadron started this initiative when they contacted Aloha Spark, the 15th Wing’s local innovation unit, about using their 3D printer to print face shields. The printer typically produces small aircraft parts for maintainers and serves as a cost-saving initiative.

"Getting anything approved for use in a clinical setting is never easy," said U.S. Air Force Col. Kara Gormont, 15th Medical Group commander. "They pulled experts together in infectious disease, emergency medicine, biomedical engineering and innovation to create this face shield. The team work and dedication that our Airmen have demonstrated in undertaking this mission is amazing, and the joint effort on island between the branches is incredible to see in action during this time."

U.S. Air Force Capt. Nicholas Votipka, 15th Wing Innovation officer, helped coordinate the effort by contacting different 3D printing military units across the island to understand their capabilities and synchronize their efforts to ensure face shields could be printed properly and establish an overall joint-military production plan.

“The frontline workers who are dealing with the brunt of this pandemic work in an Army hospital which services every single branch,” said Votipka “It only makes sense that if we are going to do a project which benefits them directly that we pull in resources from across every single service on island.”

In addition to the 15th MXS, Airmen from the 8th Intelligence Squadron and 15th Medical Group also volunteered to make this project successful. Marine Corps Base Hawaii is also playing a role in this endeavor.

“I want to make sure people are able to go home to their families healthy”, said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Barton Drummond, 8th Intelligence Squadron imagery mission supervisor, who is assisting Aloha Spark in 3D printing face shields.

Combat Logistics Battalion 3 Marines have the largest collection of 3D printers out of the services involved. They estimate that once all their printers are set up, they can produce upwards of 40 face shields each day.

“Aloha Spark got this model approved by Tripler, and then shared that file and now we’re on the same page as everyone” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Luis Izquierdo, CLB-3 support company commander. “We always want to help and support in any way possible.”

“The face shields not only help protect the person wearing them,” said U.S. Army Capt. Scott Nguyen, TAMC General Surgery resident physician. “They also protect other medical equipment, such as face masks, to keep those pieces of equipment in use longer.”

According to Nguyen, about 10 percent of healthcare workers are hospitalized because of COVID-19. Having the right tools helps protect medical practitioners and allows for greater care of patients.

“We’re usually here to help you guys, but we can’t thank those reaching out to help us enough,” said Nguyen.

Discussions are currently ongoing to increase the joint service effort to produce face shields and other resources on island to help fight against COVID-19.

With the support of AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation program, the designs for 3D printed face shields like these can be shared throughout the Air Force and efforts can be coordinated between bases.

Anyone interested in helping make face shields, should contact Aloha Spark at aloha.spark@us.af.mil.