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To Serve and Protect: Making an Impact During COVID-19

They were only too happy to answer the call to serve, when it came. 

“I love the idea of helping others by doing something simple from home,” says Matteo, Grade 11 student at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS).

“I was really excited about it! I am familiar with 3D printers and how to use them. It was a great way to do something else during the day while staying at home,” adds Dylan, a Grade 10 student. 

“I thought that if these companies were dedicating so much time and money into producing products to protect our frontline workers, then I would 100% do whatever I could to help as well,” says Michael, who is in Grade 12.

Some of the materials used to make face shield holders, which are used by health care workers and others during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ask? Collect the school’s trio of 3D printers, combine that with instruction from their design technology teacher, and collaborate with two external companies to produce a much-needed piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) --- which has been in short supply --- during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The focus of the project is to work with a community of 3D printing makers all over the province to work towards producing plastic face shield holders for the PPE drive,” says Christina Shin, design technology teacher at SMCS.

“Working with Covidstop.ca and Shop3D, the goal is to create a number of face shield holders that provide protection for frontline workers in the health community right now. The visors are printed as a mass group and then shipped back to Shop3D for assembly and then distribution through Covidstop.ca,” she says.

The school’s three 3D printers and filament supplies were dropped off to the homes of Matteo, Dylan, and Michael over the past two weeks through contactless delivery.

Dylan, in Grade 10, is one of three St. Michael’s College School students who has been equipped with a 3D printer from the school, as part of a Design Technology service initiative.

Since then, the students have rolled up their sleeves, followed instructions from their teacher and online resources, and engaged in live, experiential learning sessions every day. The team recently completed their first batch of 120 face shield holders.

“There was a lot of work behind the scenes,” recounts Michael.

“My DT (design technology) teacher set the majority of it up. She communicated with SMCS administration in order to find a way to get the 3D printers out of the school. She then took them herself, and hand-delivered the printer as well as all the filament needed to my doorstep,” he says. 

“We spoke via Edsby and Zoom a couple of times to go over how shipment of the finished masks would work, and how to optimize the printer. Once I had it all set up in my house, I was able to load the 3D printer and begin printing masks as fast as possible. Luckily this was all possible because of the thorough lessons we went through at the start of the year on how 3D printing works and how to perfect the build,” says Michael.

“The parts take about one hour and 20 minutes to print, and then I remove them from the printer,” adds Matteo. “From there on I will either send the parts, or receive plexiglass to build the full-face shield and then ship them off to a company which will distribute them. Every day, I produce about seven full face shields.” 

Grade 11 student Matteo says he is able to produce up to seven face shield holders a day.

Matteo continues, “I am happy to be involved with this project because during the school year, we normally run Milk Bag Mat club to help the unfortunate. So, this is a way to still help others but from home!”

Dylan, for his part, has added motivation. His mom is the design technology teacher. And there are other familial sources of inspiration.

“My uncle is the chief of medicine at North York General Hospital and an ICU (intensive care unit) doctor,” says Dylan.

“He has been talking to us about the planning and the efforts that hospitals have been making. I want him to be protected and other people who are working in health care to have protection. He is an SMCS alumnus as well and I think it means something to health care workers to know that people are thinking of them and trying to help,” he says.

The team is aiming to produce between 450 to 500 face shield holders by the end of May. 

“The biggest challenge producing these shields is the sheer time it takes to constantly keep the printer running,” says Michael, who like his schoolmates has about half a day of online classes at SMCS. 

Michael, a Grade 12 student, has found creative ways to problem-solve and troubleshoot challenges he encounters in the production process.

“Once (each print) is completed, the shield must be removed from the build plate, and the printer must be set manually again to print the next shield,” says Michael. “Being in class for half of the day, and working for the other half, it is very hard to keep the printer printing to optimize the amount of shields I can make a day.

“I was originally only able to produce about four to five a day. I overcame this obstacle a week into production,” he says. “I found that both of my younger sisters were also very interested in the initiative and that they were more than capable of removing the finished masks and starting a new one.”

Teaching a tactile course like design technology in an online environment has presented plenty of new learnings for the teacher as well.

“I have always taught with the design process concept of solving real-world problems,” says Shin, in her first year as a faculty member at SMCS. “This project has allowed me to realize that despite barriers be it technical or just the fact that we are social distancing, we can all be of service to others and to become problem-solvers and producers. I hope that part of our lifelong learning never stops.”

The students and their teacher have used a combination of online resources and course instruction to fabricate the face shield holders.

The learning for each student continues in myriad ways. Two of them will also be graded on the initiative.

“This project has allowed me to understand 3D printing so much more! I also learned that it is possible to help others during these desperate times,” says Matteo. “It is so cool that I am able to contribute to the community during the pandemic and that I am able to help protect frontline workers who are working so hard right now. It is great to know that we can help others from home. It only takes some creativity!”

“It means a lot because not only will health care workers be using these shields but also people who are caring for others in group homes or the elderly. Everyone is going to need protection for a while so each one of these shields is helping to keep everyone safe,” Dylan adds. 

Michael, who is interested in an engineering career says, “I think it’s so easy to sit back and see what's going on in the world as ‘outside troubles’ and that it doesn't really affect you specifically. With this worldwide pandemic we can all see that this is going to touch every one of us in some way or another.”

“I know that the masks I produce are going to go straight into the hands of those who need them most,” he says. “I think knowing this is what keeps me motivated to continue producing masks.”

The SMCS team of students hope to ramp up output to 500 face shield holders.

“I hope that students learn about the power of innovation at this time,” says Shin, who teaches three grade levels. “Despite all of the challenges we are facing as we are isolated, it is a very robust time for the world to solve problems. As well, I hope students understand and experience a sense of giving back at this time. It is easy to be caught up in the things that we cannot do right now. I think it is important to reflect and focus on all that we can do.”

Related links:

Covidstop.ca
Service at St. Michael’s College School