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Harvard resident enlists 3D printers to fill face shield shortage

Harvard engineer Bob Vinci stands next to the bank of five 3D printers he uses to manufacture face shields for first responders.(Courtesy photos)

When, in early April, the Harvard Ambulance Service posted a request for protective face shields, Bob Vinci, a computer systems engineer living in Harvard who had worked with 3D printing technology, committed himself to relieving the shortage of such shields.

While face masks limit the spread of virus carried in the air, face shields protect the wearer from contaminated droplets too large to remain suspended. Used together, face masks and shields provide enhanced protection, which is especially important for those at highest risk, such as first responders.

Already aware of the increasing use of 3D printing to create face shields, Vinci realized that this was something he could do with his own printer.

The structure of these face shields is simple: a clear shield or visor for protection, held over the face by the headpiece, and secured to the head with an elastic band and cushion, or “brow-band.” The headpiece is the principal component, acting as a frame to hold the shield. It is this component that is created by the 3D printer.

To help guide the manufacture of face shields, Vinci uses a National Institutes of Health design for 3D printing (referred to as “DtN-v3.1”) to ensure that his face shields meet standards for reliability, durability, and clinical use. The face shields are also reusable.

The headpiece is produced on a 3D printer using a design approved by the National Institutes of Health.

The result is a high-quality face shield that he has produced in sufficient quantity to supply local fire departments.

With the help of retired Fire Chief Peter Warren, Vinci has worked with Harvard and several neighboring fire departments. Production has increased steadily, from one 3D printer to five printers, with a current total of 120 face shields delivered to 10 fire departments, and 15 more towns expecting deliveries.

“It is important to remember that almost all of these fire departments rely on volunteers. They need the protective equipment for these volunteers,” Vinci said in a phone interview with the Press.

With the increasing demand for his face shields, Vinci created a GoFundMe fundraising campaign online, Faceshields for First Responders Metro-West, to help defray the cost of materials, which he estimates at $10 per unit. He has also received a donation of cushion bands directly from Frost King. Vinci expects to produce over 300 face shields.

Asked what he expects for the future, Vinci said he is focusing on present-day needs. For now, face shields remain in short supply, and he will continue working hard to get more of them to local first responders. Given the adaptability of 3D printing, he expects that there will be plenty of other items that can be produced as urgency demands.

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