Staff at Central Community College-Columbus are helping out with personal protection equipment (PPE) shortage by using injection molding to create headgear for masks.
Ben Wilshusen, director of plastic injection molding at CCC-C, is filling a need for 26,000 face shields from health departments across Nebraska.
“Last time we checked, it was about 15,000 health departments we got requests from,” said Tyler Woodard, emergency response coordinator at the East-Central District Health Department.
Wilshusen said the idea came about when he received articles from acquaintances about others using 3D printers to make face shields.
“I thought, ‘Well, what a great idea but it takes a long time,’” he said.
It can take up to 3.5 hours for a 3D printer to produce one piece of headgear. Comparability, injection molding can construct a face shield in 22.8 seconds, or 550 pieces of equipment at the same time a 3D printer produces one item.
By taking the National Institute of Health’s 3D printer design for headgear, Wilshusen crafted a plan to configure the design into a blueprint that would work for injection molding.
“We took that and redesigned it,” he said.
What would normally be a six-month-long process has been expedited into three weeks. Although Wilshusen’s department owns multiple injection molding machines, he has only one mold so there is only one machine in use for the project.
Wilshusen received assistance in developing his idea from businesses who have donated machinery, materials and has helped in turning his concepts into reality. Major Plastics in Omaha notably donated resin for the parts and designing and engineering for the mold. The headgear is constructed out of recycled plastic which was also donated.
“We’re very thankful for that,” Woodard added. “It helps Ben offer the shields for free.”
Woodard said that they have been faced with some supply issues.
“We’re working with some of the community partners to get some of the supplies,” he said.
Currently, Wilshusen is handling the injection molding machine while two or three other individuals pack the gear to give to ECHDH who then distribute the shields to those who requested it.
Boxes are filled with headgear, transparent shields, rubber bands and assembly instructions.
“Basically what we’re doing on campus is manufacturing them and boxing them,” he noted.
He and workers can practice social distancing by staying 6 feet away from each other and are wearing gloves while assembling the gear, Wilshusen said.
Woodard noted that he was excited to receive the call from Wilshusen on the project, especially as Woodard has a background in science.
“The need was a lot more than what they could have done with 3D printing,” Woodard said, noting that ECDHD has been contacting other health departments to further gauge current need.
Woodard added that ECDHD was approached by the college and that he was unaware CCC-C could create face shields via injection molding.
“It’s been such a huge asset and we look forward to cultivating that relationship,” Woodard said.
Wilshusen also noted that he hopes the project brings awareness to the college’s injection molding program.
“I saw a need and I saw I had the capability and it (the idea) went from a snowflake to a full-fledged snowball,” Wilshusen said.
Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.