Covid-19 Relief Efforts

Goal

Use our machine shop to provide desperately needed PPE (personal protective equipment), which is in short supply in our community, since we live in one of the epicenters of the pandemic. We are making and delivering re-usable face shields to local hospitals and other first-line workers including food pantries, food delivery volunteers, and home health aides. We chose a model, the Prusa Face Shield, which is NIH approved for PPE, and are 3D printed with PETG filament, which resists high temperature for heat sterilizing, and also can be disinfected with sanitizer or alcohol. We've also improved on the design, providing additional protection, by extending the shields by an additional 12% to better utilize the form factor of material available in the US. We plan on an initial delivery of 1000 shields.

Who are we?

We are Robocracy, FTC team 9773, an award-winning, 12 member high-school robotics team. We have competed for 9 years in the FIRST Lego League and FIRST Tech Challenge with repeat appearances at the FIRST World Championship. We are also a Westchester-county 4H club. We love to share our knowledge and technical expertise through mentoring robotics teams in underserved communities, and schools lacking access to STEM; organizing annual robotics summer camps; and refurbishing laptops for schools in Westchester, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

How did we come up with this idea?

We looked at PPEs that are in great need: masks and shields. We built a few masks but did not feel that they would be safe enough for front line responders, compared to the N95 golden standard which became re-usable with heat and with time. The shield designs that we experimented with turned out to be near-professional quality. The model we built is based on a design created by Prusa, a Czech 3D printer maker, and which has received NIH emergency approval as a PPE.

How do we build shields?

Building during a pandemic is a challenge in itself. In normal times, we would have gathered at our meeting place, but we now have to build and assemble while maintaining safe social distancing measures. We use our team’s 3D printers and CNC machines to print and cut parts, and then our senior team members who are able to drive pick up bags of parts and deliver them to their respective families for final assembly. Assembly is done by our members with cleanly washed or gloved hands and a face mask on a sanitized work surface. We estimate that it takes about an hour and a half to build and assemble each shield, and therefore our team is working to modify the design to build them faster. Our team members are also reaching out to their School Board Members, Superintendents, and Principals to gain access to 3D printing and CNC machines currently going unused in their closed schools.

Finding material

Finding material is hard as many of the components we need are in high demand, and often orders placed online are simply rejected or ignored. We need PETG 3D-printer filament, polycarbonate/Lexan sheets, and button elastics. When we contact their employees and explain the tremendous needs in our community, they go out of their way to send us their first available stock. So an order of 40 polycarbonate sheets may come in 3 or 4 packages at weekly intervals. Also, some of our parents have colleagues with connections in China where many of our building materials originate (elastic and polycarbonate sheets) who find us supplies in their local market and they donate the material as well as ship it with their own funds to contribute to our efforts.

Who do we donate PPEs to?

We have six team parents in the medical profession, and many more that are essential workers. Through them, we can access medical professionals that don’t yet have access to high-quality shields. Through contacts in the local community, we have also discovered that many front-line workers in nursing homes or food delivery have inadequate access to PPEs. At this stage, we have distributed 150 shields to hospitals and communities within the epicenter of the pandemic, and we plan to distribute a total of 1000, printing and assembling new masks as soon as materials arrive.

Funding

Our goal is for an initial production of 1000 shields, and raw material cost us about $3 a piece. We are currently using our team’s funds, which mainly comes from organizing summer camps at Pace University. We are exploring a go-fund-me campaign to help us shoulder some of the costs.

Impact on the community

The pandemic has been really hard on the medical professionals who are putting their lives on the line. They are so thankful when they receive much needed PPE material from the local community. Other essential workers, such as food delivery folks and nursing home personnel have similar needs and have not gotten the same amount of resources at this time. They are elated at receiving gifts from the local community to allow them to provide their essential services while staying safer.

Impact on the team

Switching to remote learning is hard and our team members are missing the busy social life of High-Schools. However, this project is a rewarding experience for each team member involved, and it is the best way to utilize our skills as designers and engineers to make a little difference in our community!