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Masks on the way to hospitals, courtesy of a Glen Head man and some 3-D printers

Max Hergenrother talks Wednesday about using 3D printers to produce disposable protective face shields out of his Glen Head home.  Credit: Newsday staff; Photo credit: St. John’s University

Max Hergenrother normally uses his home 3D printer to design toys during his spare time. But in recent weeks, his printer has run 24/7 making disposable protective face shields for health care workers in dire need of medical masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He started with his own device, but quickly got the green light from St. John’s University, where he’s the head of technology operations, to bring home five of the school's printers to make more masks.

Efforts to make face shields using 3D printers grew in the past few weeks as health care officials reported a shortage of personal protective equipment, including medical masks, for hospital workers taking care of patients with the coronavirus.

Now, out of his Glen Head home office, Hergenrother produces hundreds of clear plastic face shields and headbands each week for donation to metropolitan area hospitals, including NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital, The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn.

“I was self-appointed for this project because I probably have the most working knowledge of 3D printing,” said Hergenrother, 44, who also teaches 3D printing classes at the Queens university.

As a hobby, he uses the printers for art projects, including toy and multimedia design.

“I’ve been using these for several years now,” he said. “This just happened to be [a technology] that’s very effective for helping doctors right now.”

Hergenrother said if there are other people with 3D printers at home that can make face shields, they can donate them to St. John's University, with hospital workers the recipients.

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Designs have been widely shared online for people to print the masks using their own 3D devices. Universities across the country have also dedicated resources to produce hundreds at a time, including Stony Brook, Rutgers and Michigan State.

Stony Brook University has said they intend to make 800 face shields and procure enough supplies to produce an additional 5,000.

St. John’s University and donations provided Hergenrother with $10,000 for project supplies. With the supplies he has on hand, Hergenrother said he can make 2,000 face shields.

His efforts are earning him praise.

“Max, like so many members of the St. John’s family, embodies a spirit of service that is deeply embedded in our university culture and the campus community,” said Simon G. Moller, the university's provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The best and brightest of who we are shines through during this challenging time.”

So far, Hergenrother said, he has sent 350 face shields with 700 disposable visors, which are the clear plastic part of the equipment that cannot be printed. 

Using a new design, he can start making up to 500 face shields a week, he said.

“Being able to contribute to a greater good and help these doctors, feels really good,” Hergenrother said. “It is part of our values and Vincentian mission that we have at St. John’s University, to find where there are people in the community that are in need and be able to do outreach and help them to the best of our ability.”

Once he's done making the 2,000 face shields with the supplies he has, Hergenrother said, the university will provide additional funding to produce more if there's still a need.

"It was not a question of if we should do this, it was just a question of how much are we able to help," Hergenrother said. "Funding right now is open ended. We haven’t hit a monetary threshold."

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