UA Little Rock uses 3D printers to make PPE for healthcare workers

Jay Chesshir (left), president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Rep. French Hill (right) inspect the 3D printers that are printing face shields for CHI St. Vincent. Photo by Angie Faller.

With healthcare workers across the state facing a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is using 3D printers to create face shields for a local hospital.

In partnership with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, UA Little Rock is printing the frame of the face shields, while a partner Little Rock business, Mr. Plastic, is printing the clear shield. Once put together, UA Little Rock is delivering the much needed face shields to healthcare workers at CHI St. Vincent. 

“Those treating and testing individuals with possible infection of COVID-19 have a significant need for Personal Protective Equipment,” said Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology. “Everyone wants to help out our medical workers on the front line, and this equipment protects them and gives them a feeling of safety.”

U.S. Representative French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, applauded the university’s innovative efforts during an April 3 visit to UA Little Rock to observe the 3D printers in action.

Friday, I saw firsthand how the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is innovating to help our medical professionals on the front lines,” Hill said. “With 3D printers from the Little Rock School District, they are manufacturing critical protective face shields to go straight into the field. Together they will save and protect lives.”

The effort began with employees from the Graduate Institute of Technology and the Department of Art and Design using their 3D printers to print the face shield frames. Armand Tomany of the Graduate Institute of Technology and Ben Dory, artist-in-residence in metals in the Department of Art and Design, began printing the face shield components at their homes.

Dr. Larry Whitman, dean of the UA Little Rock College of Engineering and Information Technology, demonstrates the use of a plastic face shield for health professionals working with CODVI-19 patients. The face shields are being made at UA Little Rock by 3D printers. Photo by Ben Krain.
Dr. Larry Whitman, dean of the UA Little Rock College of Engineering and Information Technology, demonstrates the use of a plastic face shield for health professionals working with CODVI-19 patients. The face shields are being made at UA Little Rock by 3D printers. Photo by Ben Krain.

“I’ve been involved in 3D printing for five years,” Tomany said. “Dean Whitman asked if I could help with the effort. I have a small print farm at home with five machines. I was able to make about 50 face shields for St. Vincent.”

UA Little Rock has set up a print farm on the fourth floor of the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology, where Tomany, Ben Gilbert of the Graduate Institute of Technology, and students Alex Kingston and David Whitman are working.

“This is a very cool project to be involved with,” said Kingston, a senior electronics and computer engineering major. “It’s a bit of a learning curve, but you do what you need to do. With the shortage of PPE, this is a great way to pump out equipment for our healthcare workers.”

It has become a community effort to help in the fight against COVID-19. The Little Rock School District has loaned eight 3D printers to UA Little Rock. With each frame taking anywhere from 46 to 70 minutes to print, time is the immediate concern. 

“The challenge is that there are so many different makes and models of 3D printers, but we are on top of it,” Tomany said. “The immediate urgency is what drives us. We are trying to make enough PPE for the healthcare workers before the state reaches its peak of COVID-19 cases. If we get people all over the state working, then we can get a lot done.”

Additionally, the Department of Systems Engineering as well as the STEM Education Center have joined the 3D printing effort. Andrew Wright, associate professor of systems engineering, and Trigun Maroo, a doctoral candidate, Kent Layton, director of the STEM Education Center, and the center’s student worker, Alex Alvarez, are all using 3D printers to make PPE.

UA Little Rock had already donated 150 face shields to St. Vincent, and they hope to donate 200 more this week.

“It shows the innovation we have on campus to get all these people to come together for a good cause,” Whitman said.

In the upper right photo, Jay Chesshir (left), president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Rep. French Hill (right) inspect the 3D printers that are printing face shields for CHI St. Vincent. Photo by Angie Faller.

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