UBC students 3D printing PPE to distribute to essential workers around Vancouver

Two undergraduate UBC students with the desire to help those in their community have taken to something they know well during the COVID-19 pandemic — 3D printing.

Their initiative, called Project Shield, aims to provide 3D printed Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) to essential workers in small businesses, senior centres and supermarkets.

After COVID-19 was classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March, the world found itself dealing with a shortage of hand sanitizer, face masks and other necessities. In an effort to combat this deficit, numerous companies altered their manufacturing plans, with alcohol companies producing hand sanitizer and fashion designers shifting to mask making. Micheal Woo and Borna Naderi took this shift as inspiration for how they personally could help.

Woo, a rising third year integrated sciences student, and Naderi, a rising third year cellular, anatomical and physiological sciences student initially had the idea to 3D print PPE after noticing that workers at their local grocery stores didn’t have any protective equipment at the start of the pandemic.

“I had to go shopping for my family and for my grandparents and I saw that ... none of [the workers had] any personal protective measures,” said Naderi. “Companies said that either it was too expensive, or at that time, all of [the equipment] had been allocated towards the medical field.”

With time being a crucial factor in the development of this project, they chose to go with an open source face shield design by PRUSA, which is already used by healthcare workers around the world.

“The two important points for us were first, we wanted it to be a sturdy and approved design, and second, we made sure that it was light and comfortable to wear,” said Naderi. After distributing the 3D printed PPE among their communities, including North Vancouver, they’ve received positive feedback regarding the quality and comfort of the product.

Courtesy Project Shield

Alongside the face shields, Project Shield is developing ear savers for face masks which hook onto the elastic bands of a mask from both sides and relieve the pressure off of an individual’s ears. The simplicity and comfort of the products encourages people to wear them which in return motivates the developers to keep helping their community.

Since starting Project Shield in late March, around 400 face shields have been requested and distributed across Vancouver. Yet the project is showing no signs of slowing, as an influx of bigger orders is prompting Woo and Naderi to take the next step of buying more 3D printers.

After personally investing a small amount of money to start the project, they realized more funding would be necessary to grow the project and turned to crowdfunding and available grants.

“It takes $1.25 to print each face shield and almost two hours for it to be printed, assembled and packaged,” said Woo. “With orders as big as 100 face shields coming in, every dollar we get from donations truly counts.”

One of the greater goals of Project Shield is to provide protection for members of the community who aren’t receiving enough support during the pandemic. With the hopes of receiving more funding in the future to amplify their production and efficiency, they’re keeping Indigenous communities as a priority in mind.

“We’ve been communicating with the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health to see how we can help as we see amazing potential for us to collaborate with them,” Woo said.

By contacting various potential collaborators and funders, working on increasing the longevity of the project and setting up a social media presence, Project Shield is moving forward by producing as much PPE as they can prior to a possible second wave.

“We wanted to do our part to flatten the curve but also support and give back to our community,” added Woo.