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LU’s Engineers utilize knowledge, resources to fill the void of PPE in the community

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lamar University’s College of Engineering faculty and students, collectively and individually, have been involved in a number of efforts to lessen the impact on the community and help protect Southeast Texans from contracting the virus.

Printing Face Shields
Even before the campus closed and classes went online, mechanical engineering student, Ian Kennard began using Lamar University’s Science & Technology Building’s makerspace 3-D printer to make face shields for healthcare workers.

After the campus closed, Kennard asked if he could take a printer home and continue his mini-manufacturing
Ian Kennard
Ian Kennard

“It was a wonderful idea since nobody else would be using it during the shutdown,” said Kelley Bradley, director of the makerspace. “Although there are risks associated with loaning the printer, it was the right thing to do given the circumstances.  We want to support students working on important projects any way we can, and in these unprecedented times we have to be a bit unconventional.”

Kennard has made hundreds of frames to date all deployed to healthcare workers in Southeast Texas and the country. “It feels a little bit hopeless because all the average person can do is stay home, which is very important, but doing something to help while staying home feels meaningful to me, and it keeps me entertained,” said Kennard. 

Cutting Ventilator Pieces
The makerspace equipment was needed a second time in the fight against COVID-19. Michael Black, a local teacher who established the Marshall Middle School makerspace and is now in Vidor, contacted LU for help making an emergency ventilator. Black needed LU’s Science & Technology Building’s laser cutter to create a chassis or framework for five parts of a ventilator that was originally designed at the Rice University OEDK makerspace.

“Michael’s work has introduced Beaumont students to the importance of being a maker, now he’s showing us why we need creativity and ingenuity in our communities by jumping in to build these ventilators,” said Bradley. “These would only be used if the existing ventilators were all in service, so let’s all hope they will not be needed, but it’s great to know Michael is covering our back on this and even better to know that he’s teaching these skills to our children. ”

Printing Ear Savers
Kelley and the makerspace were called again to make an impact in the community. Chief Operating Officer at CHRISTUS, Ryan Miller, reached out to LU to inquire about the possibility of making 1,500 CHRISTUS employees ear savers. 

Ear Savers for Christus
In the current healthcare environment, all caregivers are required to wear masks throughout the hospital.  The masks, not typically made to be worn constantly, are secured by looping around the ears with elastic loops. Over time, the rubbing of the elastic tension around the sensitive skin behind the ears causes chaffing and a rash.

A hospital staff member with a 3-D printer made a prototype of a flexible plastic connector that rests behind the head allowing the wearer to hook a mask to the connector as opposed to looping it around the ears. The “ear saver” mask attachment seemed a solution, but Miller had no way of producing a mass quantity to distribute to every hospital employee. He asked if LU could “manufacture” them.

“We immediately recognized the significance and compelling need at CHRISTUS to help these frontline
Christus Ear Saver
Ryan Miller, Nathan Rose
caregivers, but we only had one filament printer on site,” said Bradley. “We ordered five new filament 3-D printers, but the manufacturer ran out and the order was delayed.  As a backup plan, we simultaneously ordered polypropylene sheets to see if we could turn them into ear savers with our laser cutter.   The delay on the 3-D printers may have been a blessing in disguise because it turns out that we can produce the laser cut ear saver much faster than 3-D printing.  Nathan Rose was able to get the process to a little under 15 minutes to produce 12 ear savers from one sheet.” 

Nathan Rose, a makerspace student worker majoring in mechanical engineering, created the laser cutter file and ran the machines on the project.

"I am so glad that I've been able to help with this project,” said Rose, a junior from Tomball. “Knowing that I can do something during this time and gain experience, it seems irresponsible to do nothing. I don't expect to end the pandemic with ‘ear Savers,’ but I am hoping that I can make things a bit easier for the people who will."

Redesigning Battery Packs
Lamar University College of Engineering also created alternative battery packs for Powered Air Purified Respirators suits.

CHRISTUS has approximately 15 PAPRs that keep its staff safe when working with COVID patients. However, CHRISTUS only had battery packs for five of the suits, rendering the additional suits useless. CHRISTUS’ COO Ryan Miller asked LU could identify an alternative battery pack.

Lamar University electrical engineering professors Drs. Gleb Tcheslavski and Hassan Zargarzadeh worked with CHRISTUS to resolve the issue.

Tcheslavski connected CHRISTUS to a supplier who offered a temporary solution, and Zargarzadeh provided a long-term solution re-engineering the batteries so they could be powered by plugging them in to an electrical outlet inside the patient room.

“CHRISTUS Southeast Texas Health System values the ongoing partnership we have with Lamar University, particularly during such a challenging time for our community,” says Ryan Miller, chief operating officer.  “Collaborating with the College of Engineering to reinvent and address specific PPE needs has been vital in ensuring we are protecting our frontline Associates and giving them the tools they need to safely and effectively care for our patients.  We are thankful for Lamar as a resource during this unprecedented time, and are honored to share a unified commitment to Southeast Texans.”

Designing, Printing and Assembling PPE
Another LU student, mechanical engineering major, Morgan Mitcham, also felt compelled to do help provide PPE. At home, while finishing up several classes and her senior design project Mitcham put her two 3-D printers to full-time use making masks. She designed and assembled masks that are comfortable, meet CDC
Morgan Mitcham
Morgan Mitcham
filtration standards and come in a variety of colors.

“I basically found a design online that I made my own,” said Mitcham. “I added a little more comfort to the existing design to accommodate different nose sizes and added insulation foam right around the edge, so it seals really well.”

Most unique about Mitcham’s masks is the filter. She uses the highest quality residential air conditioning filters. The filter material is capable of preventing COVID-19 from passing through it and has a 97% particle removal efficiency rate.  

“Lamar University has always been a community partner and we will continue to be as we have through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brian Craig, dean of the College of Engineering. “We have some of the best engineering minds in the country, an operational toolset of equipment and the desire to make an impact where we can. I’m proud of the efforts of our faculty, staff and students to make a difference during this very difficult time.”