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Group makes face shields during crisis

Northern Michigan University alumnus Brandon Williams' company, DreamLab, is making 3D printed face masks to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other local efforts focus on making face shields using 3D technology. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

MARQUETTE — MAPS Makerspace, a section at Marquette Senior High School, has a multi-dimensional bent, with students using 3D printers to keep up with the latest technology.

Now,

3D printing has a charitable component.

Becky LaBrecque, a science teacher with Marquette Area Public Schools and MAPS Makerspace director who also manages the Shiras Planetarium, is using her skills as a high school teacher by starting Yooper Makers United, which has involved community members as well.

The purpose of the group, which can be found on Facebook, is to make frames using 3D printers for face shields for local health care workers in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak that has shut down schools and businesses and threatens to overwhelm the medical community.

“We just don’t have everything we need,” LaBrecque said in a Facebook video, which has been the main form of communication for her. “Everything is sold out.”

So, she took home the 3D printers and put out a call for community members to help.

LaBrecque acknowledged the project can’t “3D print the world,” but it will help.

“This is a definite need in Marquette,” she said. “We can solve this problem together.”

LaBrecque explained that binder covers can be used for the shield sheets, with holes punched in them. The face shields, which are free, will be disposable and can be replaced as needed.

Plastic filament is used with the 3D printers, she said, with a spool in the back of each printer feeding in the filament to make the frames. A program determines how layers are placed.

“You have to think about how you’re orienting things, angles,” LaBrecque said.

There are many settings too, with setting up the printer the “sweet spot.”

As of Thursday morning, 184 face shields had been distributed in the region, she said, although many more just haven’t been collected yet.

The Facebook page, Support Yooper Makers United, is active with posts and photos of the ongoing project, including donated materials.

“Our elves work through the night! Here is what the plastic gods left me,” read a Tuesday post. “Thanks for the community support. We are working hard to fill this gap.”

That community support includes Northern Michigan University, teachers from Republic-Michigamme Schools and Gwinn Area Community Schools, and others from around the United States, with most of the work done in homes.

“We’re kind of a production line right now,” LaBrecque said.

In a Friday telephone interview, LaBrecque noted the face shields are not N95 masks and are intended to act just like a clear, protective shield.

The original design, she said, came from budmen.com, which is leading the effort to produce 3D-printed devices to support healthcare workers. However, her group modified the model a bit to use less plastic, plus it doesn’t use elastic.

“Different printers have different capabilities, so we have about four or five models that are being used right now,” LaBrecque said.

LaBrecque said many areas in Michigan are reaching out to her to expand the program or to use the model.

How long will the project last?

“We’re just going to keep doing it until another solution is found or we all go back to work, I guess,” LaBrecque said.

She said a supply shortage, though, could slow down the project.

On her personal Facebook page, LaBrecque said needed supplies include a wide foam weather seal tape about three-quarter inches wide and half an inch to 1 inch thick, clear binder covers, overhead transparencies and laminate pockets measuring 8.5 inches by 11.5 inches.

The 3D mask/shield-making movement is catching on in other areas of the state.

The Lansing State Journal reported that East Lansing Public Schools is partnering with tinkerLAB — a learning center in the Meridian Mall in downstate Okemos that educates kids about creating, building and inventing things — to make as many 3D masks as possible and send them to healthcare workers.

“In the maker world and in the tinker world, this is a place where we can step up and do things for the community,” Melissa Rabideau, tinkrLAB founder and owner, was quoted as saying.

Even Jacquart Fabrics Products, the Ironwood-based company that makes the famed Stormy Kromer hats, has begun to help with masks, although it’s focusing on sewing face masks as well as hospital gowns. Crain’s Detroit Business reported the company began producing masks for the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin, and plans to start making gowns soon.

“The women sewing these masks were making Stormy Kromer products last week — and are proud to be working on these essential items today,” Jacquart posted on Facebook on Wednesday.

Monetary donations for the Marquette-based face shields can be made via check, written to the Education Foundation for Marquette Area Public Schools, with MAPS Makerspace in the memo, and sent to 1201 W. Fair Ave., Marquette, MI 49855.

Donations will be used for supplies and equipment for the project. If additional money is raised beyond what is needed, it will go to support student and teacher groups at MAPS Makerspace. All donations are tax-deductible.

To help with the project, email rlabrecque@mapsnet.org or planetarium@mapsnet.org.

It’s also well appreciated, judging from the many Facebook posts.

One read: “Thank you, from all of us on ‘the Front Line’ of healthcare for your generosity. Everyone. It is such a comfort to know our community has our back.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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