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Rural Development Project Uses 3D Printing in Fight against COVID-19 Spread

Posted by Hilda Legg, Kentucky Rural Development State Director in Rural Technology
Apr 01, 2020
A 3D printer is adjusted by a technician at Somerset Community College
A 3D printer is adjusted by a technician at Somerset Community College as they print personal protective equipment in response to the lack of safety gear for medical professionals. Photo courtesy Somerset Community College.

As Kentucky does its best to battle the spread of COVID-19, state officials and medical providers have been looking for ways to answer the increasing need for medical personal protective equipment. One of those responding in a big way here in Kentucky is a somewhat unlikely source: Somerset Community College.

Somerset Community College was the first higher education institution in Kentucky to offer a statewide certificate in additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, and thanks to the passion of Additive Manufacturing Professor Eric Wooldridge and Rural Business Development Grants in both fiscal year 2017 and 2019, the program has earned a reputation as a leader in the state in 3D printing education and technical assistance.

Here in Kentucky, parts manufacturers in both the aircraft and automobile industries are big employers, and additive manufacturing–and the associated jobs–is growing across those as well as many other industries because it has a number of advantages over traditional manufacturing. Eric told me one of those is the ability to quickly transition between products.

In fact, it only took a few hours to go from printing student projects to printing and assembling the first face shield prototypes, and when there was a requested design change, an updated prototype was ready in less than 20 minutes with finished versions coming out within the hour. Now that they have a finalized design, they are printing and assembling over 100 face shields per hour. Eric, who is basically living out of his office to continue the process 24/7 with the help of some rotating staff members, said they’ve also shared the specifications with networked additive manufacturers so they could also begin production. This rapid response to a supply chain shortcoming is just another advantage of additive manufacturing.

“We couldn’t be doing this without the support of the National Science Foundation and Rural Development,” Wooldridge told me. “NSF and Rural Development grants were essential in getting the equipment and materials and training people how to use it all.”

At Rural Development, our mission is to improve the economy and way of life in rural America, and partners like Somerset Community College remind me there are good stories like this all across this great country. Time and again, when America is united in attaining a common goal, we band together, and that is part and parcel to rural culture. Whether it’s family helping family or neighbor helping neighbor, rural America knows that together, America prospers.

Partially completed faceshields
Partially completed faceshields await assembly at Somerset Community College’s Additive Manufacturing workshop. Photo courtesy Somerset Community College.
Category/Topic: Rural Technology

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David Lyons
Apr 03, 2020

Have you made the design file publicly available? If so where can I download it?
Thank you.

Debra Bailey
Apr 03, 2020

We live in the U.P. Michigan and my fiancee has a 3D printer. He is currently starting to print face masks for local residents and I was wondering if there was anything we could do to help anyone in the medical field.

Sophia Sekac
Apr 08, 2020

I like how they only want the best for example in text it states, "our mission is to improve the economy and way of life in rural America." I think what they are doing is amazing and that they should continue to do it.

Nazir borrero
Apr 08, 2020

I think its hard to do because of COVID-19. But its nice for neighbors and family to help out. But the colleges help out the community and chip in. Even the schools are printing school projects for the students. Thats what i think.

Justin miles Virts
Apr 09, 2020

Inquiry: what are the face masks for? What do they do to protect from spreading the virus?

Ben Weaver
Apr 13, 2020

@Justin miles Virts - thank you for your comment. These clear shields help reduce the chance of infection due to splatter and spray most often associated with coughing and sneezing.

Ben Weaver
Apr 13, 2020

@Debra Bailey - thank you for your comment. That is a noble idea! Your best bet is to contact your local medical facility or county health department to see where and how you can help.

Apr 17, 2020

In my opinion it is hard because of the whole process where going through to get this virus as far, as we could. The way they are supporting this is very helpful and awesome.They are providing resources and medical personal protective equipment .