A relationship that started with friendship and drones is now helping produce face shields for first responders, a critical piece of equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is an emergency situation, but we’ve been doing projects with WPD for (almost) three years now,” said Nathan Smith, Project Innovation Hub manager for Wichita State University’s College of Engineering. “The existing relationship was exactly why I was able to be contacted so quickly.”
On Thursday, Sergeant Teddy Wisely of the Wichita Police Department (WPD) and Smith delivered around 30 reusable face shields to the WPD. Wisely, on his gofundme.com page, calls the work a “community effort to tackle a community problem.”
“Many conversations have occurred on how to slow the spread of COVID-19 and what could be done to help protect our front-line workers who are face to face with the potentially infected members of our community,” Wisely wrote. “We are community members who have banded together to come up with solutions to combat the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).”
The project is growing quickly, Wisely said, as word spreads and more people and groups pitch in.
Ascension Via Christi provided a major boost to the supply chain by offering to help with funding, final assembly and sanitizing of the shield. With that help, Wisely bumped the goal up to 7,000 face shields as soon as possible.
Wisely said the group has most of the materials needed. They need more 3D printers – his goal is 100 - and people who can sew the elastic headbands. Wisely can be contacted through the gofundme.com page.
“It’s 100 percent a collaborative effort,” he said. “We’ve got a mom and her 14-year-old son with a small printer. It’s all ages.”
The relationship between the WPD and the College of Engineering started with College of Engineering graduate Ron Augustine, a reserve WPD officer, who knows Smith and Andy Stallard, director of the Senior Design Experience in the College of Engineering. Over the past three years, the College of Engineering helped the WPD develop a cheap and reusable method for tracking and monitoring vehicles and with drone projects.
Wisely, a Wichita State graduate, is a 3D printing hobbyist. As he watched news of the virus spread, he began thinking about ways to help. When he started on the face shield projects, Augustine and Stallard directed him to Smith. Smith has around 20 3D printers available to help, both in the College of Engineering and at GoCreate, a Koch collaborative, because most students are no longer on campus.
“As soon as this started, we realized all PPE is at a shortage right now,” Smith said. “Face shields are something we can easily print.”
Wisely found a design. Smith worked with the design and printer settings to boost production speed.
“Nathan was the second link in this big chain,” Wisely said. “He may have been the most beneficial to helping me believe this was going to actually happen. He started printing Day 1. It wasn’t a, ‘I don’t know if we can do this.’ He said, ‘How can I help’ and immediately started working.”
The production plans moved quickly.
“He met me on Tuesday afternoon,” Smith said. “By Wednesday morning, we had come up with a decent way to get more than just one print out every six or seven hours. I was able to get about 25 the first day and 50 (Thursday).”
That pace grew during the weekend as the crowd-sourcing grew in all areas – production, testing and decontamination.
Gregory Inc. of Hutchinson, Wichita’s Groover Labs, McConnell Air Force Base’s XPX Innovation team and Pittsburg State University are also helping, Wisely said.
“We are working around the clock,” Wisely said. "We are growing every day."