Made it: Boiler ‘Maker’ team begins producing medical supplies

Staff Reports

WEST LAFAYETTE — A group of Purdue University engineers and technologists have organized to produce much-needed medical supplies for Indiana hospitals.

And, being Purdue engineers and technologists, they couldn’t get involved without finding a few ways to improve the products, too.

The medical supplies — safety glasses and face shields at first — were expected to be delivered to hospitals in Indiana this week.

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The Purdue faculty and staff members are working closely with physicians and staff at IU Health, IU School of Medicine and Franciscan Health to develop plans for the supplies. Facilitated through an arrangement between county health officials and the Purdue University Fire Department under Indiana’s mutual aid program, Purdue is partnering with these institutions to augment their supplies of glasses, facemasks, n95 respirators, and disposable fittings for ventilators.

The volunteer Makers group has approximately 40 faculty and staff members participating, representing Purdue Polytechnic Institute, the College of Engineering, the College of Pharmacy and the School of Nursing, as well as Birck Nanotechnology Center, Ray W. Herrick Laboratories, the Bechtel Innovation Design Center and the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization.

Nathan Hartman, Purdue’s Dauch Family Professor of Advanced Manufacturing and Head of Computer Graphics Technology, co-executive director of the Indiana Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) is leading the effort.

“Getting this done has been a lesson in persistence,” Hartman said. “Two weeks ago, when a few people began sending each other emails about discussing this it seemed like it wouldn’t be possible. But people kept getting involved and offering their expertise and equipment, and within a week we began working on a plan, and now we have produced useful PPE for the healthcare community.”

Because Purdue conducts research and teaches a variety of classes in manufacturing, technology, and engineering, the university has several small manufacturing facilities. Capabilities include injection molding, vacuum forming, roll-to-roll manufacturing, machining, 3D printing, laser scanning and assembly operations.

“We’ll be putting out more information about this as more of the details are worked out. It’s a fast-moving situation, but our faculty and staff are working together to do as much as they can for the people of our state,” Hartman said. “We realized we had the expertise and the capacity to help, so why wouldn’t we?”

Purdue will be centrally supporting the material and items needed to support the Maker effort, until such time as resources become available for the state and federal stimulus funds to reimburse the university for these efforts.

“The Purdue administration has been incredible in supporting our efforts, handling the purchasing, legal issues, communications, and facilities issues. They’ve supported us every step of the way,” Hartman said.

Purdue’s Bechtel Innovation Design Center is a student “makerspace” or prototyping facility. Although closed to students at this time, it has a variety of tools that have been put to use in this effort, said David McMillan, assistant director of the center.

“The Bechtel Innovation Design Center staff and students were searching for the right opportunity to apply our expertise in design and rapid prototyping,” McMillan said. “Under guidance from medical professionals, we have re-designed and manufactured complex fittings for ventilators and are actively producing laser cut, waterjet cut, and 3D-printed parts for face shields and safety glasses.”

Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center is at work producing lenses for protective glasses and face-shields in the center’s pilot-scale manufacturing facility. Currently the facility’s roll-to-roll laser cutting system has produced 1,600 lenses and 2,500 face shields, and is expected to eventually produce 3,000 lenses and 4,000 face shields.

Miko Cakmak, Purdue’s Reilly Professor of Materials and Mechanical Engineering, is overseeing the work in Birck.

“A number of additional Birck staff members volunteered to work on this project to rapidly scale up our production,” Cakmak said. “The work is being carried out by staff scientists Guy Telesnicki and Nick Glassmaker.”

The raw materials for the face shields and lenses was donated by Eastman Chemical.

“This company has been very helpful to us in this effort,” Cakmak said.

The Maker team also is working to develop an improved design for n95 respirators using injection molding.

“The respirator uses filters that are commonly found in hospitals in ventilators and other devices, so these are easy to find and are easy to replace. The rest of the respirator can be easily and quickly disinfected,” Hartman said.

Hartman also notes that he and other faculty members have been receiving many inquiries from people with home 3D printing machines, and says this is often not a good idea.

“I completely understand their desire to help during a crisis. Although it is possible for individuals to model and print respirator masks or other PPE using plans they find online, they should exercise high levels of caution,” Hartman says. “The printers use a filament as the raw material, and as it is laid down this material leaves microscopic gaps in the finished product that can harbor the virus and are impossible to disinfect.”

“The reality is that hobbyists really can’t produce these materials effectively given the complexities of materials and processes.”

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