Noah Graber with finished 3D printed components for Make4Covid

Schools across Colorado may be closed, but a group of students at the STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch are using this time to have an impact, doing their part in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Students from the STEM IMPULSE robotics team are using 3D printers to make materials for face shields used by health workers, including straps and buckles, which hospitals across the state are in dire need of.

As soon as COVID-19 began to affect Colorado, engineering teacher Cara Phillips got the idea to work with her students to make materials for the face masks.

“I saw a couple stories on face shields. I knew you couldn’t just use any material,” said Cara Phillips. “I started doing research, calling hospitals, to find out what could be used. Some of our students who have parents who are doctors were able to help.”

After dealing with a lot of red tape in getting involved directly, Phillips found Make4Covid as the best partner for connecting with hospitals. “They were getting requests from real medical professionals. I saw this group was legit, so I wanted to see what more we could do,” said Phillips.

“UCHealth in Highlands Ranch asked us to print 100 buckles that relieve pressure from the ears,” said Cara Phillips. “We’ve printed about 500 face shield bands, and we’re at about 300 buckles.”

When Noah, the Impulse team’s project manager, started doing the work, his father Jack Graber was eager to get involved. Phillips asked Graber if he would like to set up two printers at his house and Graber agreed. 

It takes about three hours for the computers to print each headband, and Graber’s team prints two at a time. So far they have printed over 160 headbands at their home. “Right now, our plan is to crank out as many as we can, to meet initial demand,” explained Graber. “There’s plenty of demand. In another week, as demands change, we’ll see what we continue doing.”

The teams use Prusa 3D printers, along with a piece of open source Prusa software called a PrusaSlicer. The PrusaSlicer is used to determine what each layer of the product is going to be. 

The innovative, proactive nature of this project fits perfectly with the character of the group. On the team’s website, they explain that their projects are the products of “creative students who are prepared to fully engage with engineering challenges in their academic and professional futures.”

Written by Bryce Fricklas, volunteer at Make4Covid and freelance journalist. Learn more about Bryce on LinkedIn.