CreatorPult's Chris White normally has 14 3-D printers humming in his downtown Haverhill print shop, but now, due to the coronavirus crisis, there is little work being done there.
So to make the most of his time, White and his colleague Chris Ellen, are busying themselves in another way: Making face masks with those same printers for people who need them to fight the new coronavirus, commonly called COVID-19.
“In the current situation, no one's printing or ordering anything, so I figured I'd see if there was anyone who had a design we could print and LowellMakes, a maker-space in Lowell, found one and they've been printing them,” White said. “We borrowed their idea and printed 20 our first day using supplies we had around the shop.”
Having printed more than 200 masks, White has enough supplies to make one more week's worth, he predicts, before he'll have to rely on donations from the community. He is looking for 1.75-mm PLA filament, quarter-inch weather stripping, braided elastic and HEPA filters to finish off the masks, he said.
In North Andover, high school biology teacher Bennett Ahearn is also making the most of his coronavirus downtime. Ahearn started 3-D printing as a hobby and a low-cost way to create models to use at North Andover's Dungeons and Dragons Club. In the last few weeks, his students, who normally see Ahearn use the printers to create DNA strands, have found that distance learning can be much more than reading or writing.
“Making these masks serves two purposes: It feels good knowing that people at risk are now at less of a risk. It also feels good representing my community,” said Ahearn. “In North Andover, we try to put a lot of effort into fostering a sense of care. As a teacher, we've been shut down for almost a month. There's a lot of downtime. This is a way to occupy my time, occupy my hands and occupy my mind.”
Also using a template from LowellMakes, Ahearn fires up five printers at his home in East Kingston, New Hampshire, to make his masks. Using money raised from the North Andover Moms Facebook page, he was able to buy a new printer and has recently started incorporating copper filament in his masks — which he says adds an extra layer of protection.
“Health practitioners I've spoken to have cautioned that the virus can persist on plastic for several days, so while you're not breathing in viral particles, it can still last on the mask afterward if you're not careful,” Ahearn said. “If doctors are hesitant to use these masks because they're made of plastic, then switching to copper should allow everyone to feel a lot more comfortable.”
Ahearn said he communicates daily with health care professionals from across the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire who have asked for masks — some forced to cover their faces with bandanas, he said. A woman requested one because she was going in for a medical treatment and found out her provider wasn't intending to wear a mask. Ahearn offers them free of charge, no questions asked.
White said the CreatorPult team has also had interest from local healthcare facilities for their masks, which he said could be used in areas that present “less risk,” like a reception desk, for example.
“We want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” White said. “Just sitting around having the capacity to do stuff seems kind of wrong, so I just decided to find something we can do to help.”