Demand for protective medical masks has never been higher and when a call went out March 21 from, Jeremy Hedges CEO of technology company InkSmith in Kitchener, for help from anyone with a 3D printer, a team of people from the Wellington Catholic District School Board stepped up.
“It came together quickly,” said Luis Gomes senior IT manager for the WCDSB. “We got the call Saturday night. Sunday, we put a plan together. Monday, the printers were picked up from schools. They were sanitized and were at our homes printing.”
Gomes and tech teacher Kevin Reid, from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School, have agreed to run the printers from their homes.
“To get this to work we had to get the printers out of the schools and to our homes,” said Gomes. “The schools are shut down and we couldn’t have people walking back and forth to the schools.”
The endeavour has been a team effort with support from students, teachers, principals, and administrators as well as Gomes’ and Reid’s own family members.
“I am running one of them and Kevin is running three of them,” said Gomes. “The machines have been going non-stop since last Monday except for when Kevin and I and our kids actually sleep. It takes about an hour and a half to print one shield. We have been averaging about 20, to almost 30, a day.”
The parts are used to assemble InkSmith’s newly approved Canadian Shield mask.
“We are making the top part of the face shield,” said Gomes. “The head band part for the face shield and the reinforcing piece at the bottom that keeps it rigid. InkSmith is providing the clear shield themselves.”
InkSmith CEO Jeremy Hedges recently announced that the company is hiring 100 new employees to meet its planned production of 8,000 masks a day and is providing technical direction and materials to businesses and organizations contributing to the effort.
“InkSmith not only put the call out but they are providing us with free filament to run our machines,” said Gomes. “They know what filament works best for those machines. When we have a box full of these things, we drop them off and we pick up more filament. We bring them home and continue going.”
Gomes said that, given the value of the 3D printers and the unusual circumstances, it was essential to have the level of support they have received for the project from the beginning.
“Mike MacPherson, the principle at St James High School and I got the call at the same time and we agreed that is was something we should do,” said Gomes. “We contacted board director Tamara Nugent and the associate director Tracy McLennan and they were on board with it.”
Extra effort was made to limit any chance of contaminating the schools, the machines and the homes of Gomes and Reid.
“We worked with the manager of operations Rae Walton,” said Gomes. “He provided us with gloves and sanitizer. He went into the schools with me and we sanitized the printers and made sure we were the only people in the schools. We sanitized them as well as all the boxes and the filament. Then we did a parking lot hand off from one van to another. I am sure if anyone was walking down the street they would have thought that looks suspicious.”
Gomes said the printers were purchased through fundraising efforts by students and their families and he thinks everyone will be happy to see how they are being used.
“When I put the call out, the principals as a whole said, ‘take what you need,” Gomes said. “Take our supplies and our printer. We will figure it out later.’ Sometimes people think of 3D printer as a novel item. If they are used with in a school setting with lesson planned the kids are learning something.
"This is a real world example of a 3D printer being used on the front lines to help front line medical staff stay safe. It has been a lot of fun and it is nice seeing these things being used for something like this especially now because they would have sat there in the schools collecting dust.”