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Libraries lending out 3-D printers to make protective gear

David Ecker, director of the iCreate lab at

David Ecker, director of the iCreate lab at Stony Brook University, models a 3D plastic face mask. Credit: Stony Brook University

Suffolk libraries have joined the effort to help Stony Brook University Hospital doctors and nurses in dire need of personal protective gear as they fight to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Dozens of libraries have donated their 3D printers to help manufacture face shields, which have been in short supply since the pandemic reached Long Island. While the need for shields is unpredictably large, the goal is to make 5,000 pieces as quickly as possible.

“We have these 3D printers for our patrons to use, but we’re closed," Patchogue-Medford library director Danielle Paisley said. “Why not try to use these 3D printers to use for this really great project?”

Libraries are sending their printers to a Suffolk Cooperative Library System "printer farm" in Bellport, where staff under the supervision of assistant director Roger Reyes create the plastic headbands — in vibrant colors such as blue, yellow, purple and red — that will become part of the shields. The headbands are sent to Stony Brook University's iCreate lab, which assembles the shields to specifications provided by the hospital.

In a video released by the university, Charlie McMahon, interim senior vice president of information technology, said the idea for using 3D printers was inspired by a similar effort in an unidentified upstate New York community.

"We … said, 'Can we do this?' " McMahon said. "And the answer was yes."

The lab went to hardware stores to buy supplies such as door insulation to improve the safety and comfort of the headbands, which wrap around a user's head like a visor to hold the face shields in place.

“We’ve kind of improvised a little bit and made it work," iCreate lab director David Ecker said in the same video. "When we showed the doctors, they were really happy and excited about it.”

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In addition to libraries, the hospital has received help in the effort from numerous printer donors, such as Estee Lauder, Brookhaven National Lab and the private Stony Brook School, as well as individuals with their own printers who make headpieces and drop them off for assembly, a university spokeswoman said.

The printers, which cost $1,500 to $2,500 for new devices and about $800 for refurbished units, are used by libraries for a variety of purposes, such as adult classes and to lend to local entrepreneurs preparing prototypes. But with libraries closed to the public, librarians were quick to lend them to the face shield effort.

At least 40 libraries have donated printers, with some contributing two or more. Some libraries also are contributing the plastic filament needed to make the headbands. Staff at the Bellport facility work in small groups to maintain social distancing.

"Anything that we can do to help at his time," said Kerri Rosalia, director of Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, which donated its three printers. 

“Everybody was trying to donate at least one,” said Bayport-Blue Point Public Library director Mike Firestone, who donated one printer and planned to lend a second. “We’re not nurses, we’re not doctors. We want to help however we can.”

How does it work?

3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing technology) has been around since the 1980s. It uses some of the same technology as conventional inkjet office and home printers. But instead of ink or printing powder, 3D printing uses fluids such as molten plastic.

Blueprints created using computer-aided design software are fed to the printer, which uses inkjets to apply ultrathin layers of melted filament to create the object.

Uses: 3D printers have been used to make musical instruments, auto parts, prosthetic limbs, foods.

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