The Grassroots effort to 3D print masks to combat coronavirus is starting in a tiny New Jersey shop by an entrepreneurial engineering female.
One layer at a time, one mask at a time. Inside a fabricating co-op in Totowa, New Jersey known as the Maker Depot, 29-year-old mechanical engineer and lab manager Shweta Thapa is hoping to make a difference.
The Newark, NJ resident is part of a new initiative encouraging the 10,000 members of Women in 3D Printing, a global technology organization, to use their hardware and software skills to fight the COVID-19 pandemic by making some of the products that are in short supply.
“We had an announcement last week that the hospitals are having a shortage of all these things, so our co-founder, she announced that we potentially could help 3D printing be a part of the process,” Thapa said, referring to Nora Touré, a veteran of the 3D printing industry, also known as additive manufacturing, as well as activist and educator.
At the time of press for this article, the virus has infected more than 205,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,200 around the world, with 7,300 U.S. cases and 115 deaths, including more than 700 positive diagnoses and nine fatalities in New Jersey.
The spool of grey polylactic acid filament unwound ever so slowly into the 3D printer’s extruder module, which moved back and forth over the surface of the build platform, or print bed. As it moved, the super-heated module melted the biodegradable plastic-like material and discharged it through a nozzle in a stack of ultra-thin layers with patterns dictated by a data file that had been downloaded onto a Mac connected to the printer.
After a few passes of the extruder, what lay on the bed looked like a two-dimensional grid printed in gray ink. But as time went by, the stacked layers began to rise from the printing platform’s surface until, after 3 hours, what would eventually take shape was the main body of a breathing mask that Thapa hoped would soon be used to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
But with plans to put more of her own printers to work, and potentially thousands of colleagues joining in the effort, Thapa and Women in 3D Printing founder Nora Touré say that, collectively, their organization can make a real difference.
“We see all the healthcare systems are pushed to their limits and beyond, so we are doing as much as we can to help,” Touré, who is originally from France but is now based in the San Francisco Bay area, told NJ Advance Media.
Asked how many Women in 3D Printing were participating in the coronavirus initiative, Touré said, “My best guess is around 1,000.”
Thapa, a native of northern India who earned her engineering master’s from Rutgers, said she did not know how many New Jersey “makers,” as the people who print in 3D are sometimes called, were involved in the effort. To join the effort, Thapa invited other makers to contact her at Shweta@makerdepotacademy.com.
Nor do she or Touré know just which Garden State hospitals will get the masks. They also hadn’t decided where they would get the paper filters that would be attached to the masks to screen the deadly new virus or any other pathogens.
“There are a lot of questions remaining,” Touré said.
Even so, Touré said it was by no means too early for Thapa and all her like-minded makers to begin the grass-roots production process, and then distribute the masks wherever they’re needed most.
Masks are not the only anti-coronavirus tools being fabricated at the Maker Depot, a 6,400-square foot space co-founded by Frank Cornachiulo, a New Jersey-based software engineer who consults for financial firms on derivatives trading and teaches computer science at Lehman College in New York.
Cornacchiulo also runs the Maker Depot Academy, which offers hands-on technical and technological training at the space for children and adult students, professionals and hobbyists, and provides space for local scout groups.
Mariana Maslovka, 24, was programming a laser cutter to inscribe a block of wood with a message now being spread nearly as fast as the coronavirus itself.
After Maslovka chose an uncharacteristically whimsical font, then sized and centered it on a desktop computer near the Xerox machine-sized laser, Cornucciulo closed the glass safety cover and told Maslovka to give the command. What emerged was a timely public service announcement artfully seared into the wood as if by some divine bolt of lightning.
“Stay safe and wash your hands.”
This article was originally published by Steve Strunsky of NJ Advance Media for NJ.com. To read the article in its entirety, you can click here.