Real world experience: Universities shift gears for PPE efforts

Among finding ways to wrap up the school year amid the current national and state-wide quarantine, local colleges are putting forth extra efforts to help supply the much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) for area hospitals and the supply chain.

Answering the call for help, both Central Michigan University and Saginaw Valley State University have opened up specific programs to aid in the need for masks, protective shields, and, in the case of SVSU, hand sanitizer as well. Both schools have found ways to utilize scholastic supplies, on site technology, and updated methods to give back to the local and statewide medical communities.

Chippewas chipping in

Utilizing 3D printers and good old-fashioned sewing skills, CMU has a few different plans in place to help the decreasing numbers of the specific medical supplies.

At the very start of the quarantine in Michigan, Michael Reuter, CMU's Director of Technology Operations for the College of Arts and Media and College of Education and Human Services, came across an article about how Syracuse University started to utilize 3D printers to create face masks for hospitals. That was the spark that got the movement rolling locally.

Students and staff are using 3D printers at CMU’s Makerbot Innovation Center to make reusable rigid versions of N95 respiratory masks to be fitted with small replaceable filters.

"I talked with Scott Kinsley who manages the lab and we looked at the model that needed to be printed, ran one and it ran fine,” says Reuter. “So, we approached the Deans who helped fund the Makerbot lab at CMU to get their approval before moving forward and they were completely on board.”

From there, Reuter connected with the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance (MiHIA).

Michael Reuter, CMU's Director of Technology Operations for the College of Arts and Media and College of Education and Human Services"They had the rest of the components to help us,” he says. "So, we printed the hard mask part and MiHIA had the elastic portion and filter material that goes into the square grid in the face of the mask that you breathe through. They also had all the systems in place to distribute them and knew who needed them."

Around the same time, Susan Wroblewski, Coordinator for CMU’s Center for Merchandising and Design Technology was approached by Tanya Domina, chair of the department, about sewing masks.

"Tanya reached out to me and I happened to have fabric leftover from previous research projects in pretty good quantities," says Wroblewski.

“At the same time one of our students, Josh Golden, contacted me saying, 'Hey, I see that there's a need for making surgical masks. Don't we have some extra fabric in the lab?' So together we kind of reviewed the different design options.

Josh determined a layout to see how many masks could make with a yard of fabric," Wroblewski says. "It turned out they could make 24 masks with one yard of fabric. So, Josh helped us put together some instructions for a one-layer mask."

Golden, a senior majoring in Fashion Design, has worked for Wroblewski as a lab assistant since October. "I am sewing from home right now," says Golden. "They asked me to put together some instructions on how to cut it and sew the masks. They reached out to other design students in the program and asked if they would want to help. I'm home in Lansing now working on them for distribution across the state.”

Susan Wroblewski, Coordinator for CMU’s Center for Merchandising and Design Technology was approached by Tanya DominaWith his quick design and template, Golden has wrapped up 30 masks so far and will ship in batches of 50. From there, the masks will be coordinated to ship to a hospital where they get sanitized before they are used.

Another student involved with CMU's sewing is Kensi Desimpelare, a senior who will graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Fashion Merchandising this December.

"It's really great to be able to use the skills that I've had from working in design classes and use it for something more impactful," says Desimpelare, a Merchandising major and Design minor. With her supplies arriving two days after asking for them, the Frankenmuth resident now has an assembly line process going.

“Thankfully, I have my own sewing machine. So, I was able to make the masks a lot easier with that instead of having to try and do any hand sewing,” says Desimpelare.

For Reuter, he figures he has made 350-400 face masks as of early April.

“Here and there we have a printer go down or extruders (which actually guide the filament out and onto the making the object) sometimes get clogged up, but we're producing probably 60 to 75 a day in a whole bunch of different colors and different sizes,” he says.

The final steps on the hard masks are finished by MiHIA as well as handling distribution.

Reuter says CMU’s PPE efforts may not end with just masks.

"MiHIA has shown us a couple of other things that they are considering that would need to be produced," says Reuter. "Two of the things they've already talked to us about we are waiting on a template for, so we haven't sample printed them just yet, but neither of them look to be difficult. With everything that's going on in the news, it's good to be able to help out in some small way.”

Cardinals crafting emergency supplies

SVSU also has a plan for masks outside of the school and have made the jump to producing hand sanitizer, with the help of a local brewery donation.

Students and faculty at Saginaw Valley State University and Central Michigan University are working together to crafts personal protective equipment for area hospitals.

Matthew Kline is the Manager of the Independent Testing Lab, which is a resource run by the university in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He has been able to connect PPE opportunities for clients Vantage Plastics and Nexteer Automotive.

"MiHIA reached out to us for help sourcing this PPE, " he says. "I kind of have two hats that go between funding sources and aiding manufacturers in the region as they retool their operations to make PPE.”

“When the call came out for additional equipment, I knew quite well the capabilities and limitations of 3D printing,” he says. “Within a couple weeks I knew we could have manufacturers making a few hundred an hour or, depending on what component it is, a few hundred a minute.”

Recently in the news, Ford was able to deliver a million face shields through retooling efforts.

“This is what we're talking about when you throw manufacturing weight behind something,” says Kline.

SVSU has help oversee other parts of sourcing materials as well, like helping Stryker source supply materials for hospital beds.

For the SVSU hands-on help, Kline has laid out a plan for making hand sanitizer with students.

"Old Town Distillery in Saginaw donated 270 gallons of alcohol," he says. "With that, we started making hand sanitizer and we're looking to wrap that up, making about 310 gallons by mid-April."

SVSU Chemistry Club President Vincent Flores has been spending much of his quarantine time pushing the sanitizer project along, making a ten-minute ride from his home in Bay City. "I'm a chemistry major and they wanted to bring in some of the chemistry students," says the senior, who graduates in May.

"We got 270 gallons of 190 proof ethanol from the Old Town Distillery in Saginaw and by last week we only had a small reactor, which is essentially a big glass vessel where ingredients are poured into and mixed,” says Flores. “Now, we are setting up a larger one that was temporarily donated and will hold 50 liters. We can turn all of that ethanol into hand sanitizer as long as we don't run out of the other ingredients that we need."
Josh Golden, a CMU senior from Lansing, drew out patterns to make 24 masks from a single yard of fabric. Now, he’s sewing them from home and sharing his pattern with other design students.

"We are also autoclaving water, a sterilizing process," adds Marc Dean, a sophomore from Port Huron with a major in Biochemistry.

"They were looking for volunteers and I live on campus, so it is something to do and a way to help out."

As they await another shipment of bottles, Dean figures it will take some time before sanitizer stock runs out. "The last few batches have been sent to Covenant Hospital in Saginaw. So, when they run out, they'll send the bottles back and then we'll continue production."

Dean says that some materials have been hard to obtain. "Hydrogen peroxide is the ingredient we've been limited on. It's been backordered with all of the demand.”

The personal rewards each student and staff member feel far outweigh the battles during this strange and stressful time.

“It's nice to have something to do,” says Dean. “All my roommates moved out, so I'm living here alone and just trying to stay isolated and stay healthy. It's nice to be able to get out of the house and be able to help, if only in some small way.”

Flores echoed the sentiment. “All of our classes are now online,” he says. “It's kind of trying to keep up with that and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Getting the homework done, taking care of my exams and then also helping the hand sanitizer project.

Golden’s personal commitment to the project will help keep him busy at home. “Every single student that's doing this is doing it just because they want to. They're not getting offered any extra credit or anything and right now, we have about 17 design students working to help.”

“Anyone out there can help,” adds Desimpelare. “I think any students that have even a little bit of training with sewing can totally do this and help out if they want to.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.