SFU engineering students use personal 3D printers to help frontline workers

So far they have donated medical mask ear-savers and contactless door handles to medical personnel

Five 3D printers are available to SFU students in the Media and Maker Commons. Photo courtesy of SFU

Written by: Paige Riding, News Writer

How would you react if you were told you could help frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, all while earning class credit?

For Mechatronic Systems Engineering (MSE) students at SFU, this scenario is their reality. Organized by MSE professor Dr. Woo Soo Kim, this initiative involves engineering students using their own personal 3D printers to produce supplies for frontline workers. 

In an email interview with The Peak, Dr. Kim elaborated on the efforts of the MSE program known as the 3D Designed PPE Initiative.

Dr. Kim stated that he began the initiative in mid-March. Collaborators of the professor, Dr. Lillian Hung from the University of British Columbia and Stephen Wu from the City of Surrey, contacted the 3D printing expert, hoping such skills would help in the wake of the pandemic.

“At that time all the University labs were closed. So I sent emails to all 50 3D Designed PPE Initiative students. And 6 students raised hands that they have 3D printers at home.” 

According to Dr. Kim, these six undergraduate students have already made 500 medical mask ear-savers using their own personal 3D printers. Ear-savers help eliminate the discomfort felt by those wearing face masks for hours on end. He also noted that the students have made around 50 door handles. According to SFU News, these door handles will allow people to open a door without using their hands. 

From there, Dr. Kim gathered the products and delivered them to Vancouver General Hospital and the City of Surrey for their frontline workers.

According to SFU News, the students involved “determined a way to cut down the time it takes to print the mask straps, from 33 minutes to nine.”

The story further notes that these students can later apply their efforts to a directed study course for class credit.

Dr. Kim stated that 3D printing is a method of “sustainable manufacturing.” This approach to creating usable objects is enjoyed by many MSE students in their own home, and is therefore doable even with campus closures.

Those involved in the initiative have further plans to help those around them.

3D Designed PPE Initiative students will be working on their novel designs of ventilators in the summer, according to Dr. Kim. This will be imperative for anticipating another virus-surge similar to that of COVID-19.

“I always [tell] my students that engineers need to give back to our community and society.”