West Van teacher harnesses 3D printers for COVID-19 workers

This story has been amended since first posting to include a link to B.C.'s COVID-19 Supplier Hub, for companies looking to offer support or supplies.

A West Vancouver Secondary teacher has converted his school’s collection of 3D printers into a small factory to produce badly needed supplies for workers on the COVID-19 front lines.

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The five 3D printers are normally used by students in design, robotics or marketing classes, but when Keith Rispin saw a call-out for help from the Vancouver Makers for Emergency Response group on Facebook, he decided to press the machines into another kind of service, printing out “ear saver” mask straps.

Wearing a surgical mask for 12 hours straight can result in a wicked chafe on the back of one’s ears. The ear-saver straps allow the masks to be fastened more comfortably around the back of the head.

“West Van Secondary appreciates the opportunity to help out in this manner. We have the equipment, so we might as well use it for the greater good,” Rispin said.

The machines can produce a new strap every two hours and 50 minutes.

“I'm hoping to crank out about 36 to 48 per day,” he added.

Rispin is using a cornstarch-based plastic. It’s ideal in that it is completely non-toxic, although it doesn’t age well. By summer, it will become brittle and start to biodegrade.

The Facebook group is looking to recruit other volunteers who can use their 3D printers to help in the crisis.

“They were in need of 3,700 of  [the ear savers] as of last night. Once I'm done a set of probably about 100, I will give them a call,” Rispin said.

The province is asking all companies looking to offer support or supplies for COVID-19 efforts to visit B.C.'s COVID-19 Supplier Hub. Click here to visit.

3d printer
A 3D printer at West Vancouver Secondary outputs ear-saver head straps for workers on the COVID-19 front lines. photo Keith Rispin

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