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story.lead_photo.caption Jeff Sumner, left, engineering shop machinist, and Dr. Mahbub Ahmed, associate professor of engineering, display face shields produced at Southern Arkansas University for distribution to area healthcare workers.

Facing a widespread shortage of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE), Southern Arkansas University’s Engineering and Physics Department adapted its 3D-printing resources to produce face shields for Magnolia Regional Medical Center (MRMC) and other first responders in the community.

According to Dr. Abdel Bachri, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, there is mounting evidence that coronavirus’ main mode of transmission is via respiratory droplets, which makes guarding the face a priority for health workers on the front lines.

Jeff Sumner, left, engineering shop machinist, and Dr. Mahbub Ahmed, associate professor of engineering, display face shields produced at Southern Arkansas University for distribution to area healthcare workers.

“Face shields are not foolproof against the transmission but they offer an added protection when used in combination with other PPE,” said Bachri. Dr. Mahbub Ahmed, associate professor of engineering, and Jeff Sumner, engineering shop machinist, led the effort to produce a large batch of face shields, developing a capability to fabricate more as needed. “This is the least we can do to protect, in a modest way, our healthcare workers against coronavirus,” said Dr. Ahmed. The 3D printed framework for the shields can be disinfected and used repeatedly, thus eliminating the need to continuously replenish the stock.

The department delivered one batch to MRMC for distribution to the Columbia County Emergency Preparedness team. Another batch was given to SAU Health Services. Stephanie Schmittou, MRMC’s Chief Nursing Officer, welcomed the PPE. “Face shields are needed and have been a difficult resource to obtain during this pandemic. MRMC is proud to have these for our protection. We are so grateful for the support from Southern Arkansas University and its commitment to our community hospital,” said Schmittou said.

SAU’s 3D printing lab is capable of prototyping products as large as two feet in each direction. ABS and PLA are the two popular filament materials used by SAU students to convert their CAD models into prototypes while working on senior projects. The lab has additional printers capable of 3D printing nylon with fiberglass to produce stronger parts. Modern civilization has greatly benefitted from the advent of 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology both of which have unlimited potential.

SAU 3D printing lab has helped and continues to provide service to local industries with designing and 3D printing prototypes.

“We are happy to share the source file and instructions with anyone having access to 3D printing if they want to print more face shields. We encourage all to find ways to support our healthcare workers as they lead the fight to save lives,” Bachri said.

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