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Florida 3D Printers Making Face Shields For Hospitals, Coronavirus Testing Facilities

an illustration that says print the curve flat over photos of medical professionals wearing 3d printed face shields.
Print the Curve Flat Facebook Page/Haley Keim
Shortages are worsening for personal protective equipment as coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

Shortages are worsening for personal protective equipment like n95 respirators, gloves and gowns - typically shortened to PPE - as coronavirus continues its spread across the country.

In Florida, a state with nearly 5,000 cases of COVID-19 and counting, hospitals and urgent care centers are posting pleas to the community for anything that could help protect them while tending to patients.

A week ago, out-of-work Walt Disney World seamstress and Orlando resident Cynthia Kirkland turned her 3D printer toward making face shields out of the plastic sheeting commonly seen in overhead projectors in schools, and 3D-printed face bands – all of which are easily cleaned in a bleach bath.

It quickly turned into a statewide and national effort of more than 150 3D printers taking designs, originally created by makers in Sweden, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, and tweaking them.

RELATED: USF Touting Teamwork To Create 3-D Swabs For COVID-19 Testing

Credit Courtesy Jennifer Carter
Tampa resident Jennifer Carter creates the plastic band for the face shields on her 3D printer. Each one can take up to two hours to print.

“It was pretty incredible that the maker community literally was stuck at home and we were like, ‘Oh, we could totally just divert our pent-up energy to something to a good cause and get all of our printers up and running online,’” Kirkland said.

The Print the Curve Flat Facebook group is supplying thousands of face shields to medical facilities across the United States, and in the Tampa Bay area, including to Tampa General Hospital’s urgent care testing facilities.

Kirkland said the shields are not a replacement for the needed gear, but helps make masks last longer. She describes them as similar to a welding visor.

“It's kind of crazy when you think of how much medical equipment one nurse needs in this environment,” Kirkland said.

"When they're dealing of course with blood or medicine or just contamination in any sense of the word, the face shields that we're creating as a 3D print group will protect the nurses from that.’

While the design is constantly being tweaked after feedback from medical professionals, Kirkland said it currently costs about $20 to print 60 shields.

Each one takes up to two hours to print.

Jennifer Carter of Tampa owns a real estate photography, videography and drone business, and runs 

Credit Courtesy Jennifer and Nathan Carter.
Nathan Carter shows off a newly 3D printed and assembled face shield.

NoSleep Till Cosplaywith her husband, Nathan Carter.

They make pop culture figurines and costume pieces in their 3D printer, but recently joined up with Kirkland to make face shields.

“Like everyone else, we were really horrified by the shortages and basic safety equipment that the coronavirus has caused for clinics and hospitals around the world,” Jennifer Carter said.

“It's a scary time and seeing the medical staff getting sick or dying because they can't get the personal safety supplies they need is really heartbreaking. While we're doing our part with social distancing, we also knew we wanted to do more.”

RELATED: Map: Coronavirus Cases In Florida

Over the weekend, Carter said she got a request from St. Joseph’s Hospital, Morton Plant Hospital, and St. Anthony’s Hospital in for 500 face shields.

The representative from Morton Plant told the Carters their ER was “getting scary,” and two COVID-19 testing clinics she dropped supplies off to told them the shields extend how long they can use their masks.

Carter said so many 3D printers are getting on board, and the need is so great from health care facilities, that supplies are getting more difficult to find. Anyone with extra PLA filament and overhead transparency sheets are asked to donate them to the group.

Kirkland said it’s only in recent years that 3D printers became affordable enough for regular people to purchase for home use.

“It’s really funny how makers started getting access to these items that were originally for manufacturing of medical supplies and machine parts and basically industrial design,” Kirkland said.

Credit Courtesy Amy Kein
Amy Keim and her team from the George Washington University Hospital staff in COVID-19 tent using the first shipment of face shields

“And now we're having to direct our efforts back into the medical manufacturing/machining industry. It just became a big circle. I think I was probably printing costume parts for Comic Con yesterday and then suddenly I'm like, 'Well, I have a greater calling now.'”

Kirkland said she’ll do anything to make sure medical professionals aren’t resorting to using trash bags, or nothing at all, to protect themselves from the virus.

3D printers, designers, and health care professionals can connect through the Print the Curve FlatFacebook group.

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I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.