Innovation Lab 3D-prints face shields for student lab safety

Student wearing a 3D printed face shield

Students conducting research inside VCU Engineering’s laboratories have an additional layer of protection, thanks to the Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Innovation Lab. Since classes began, the lab has been 3D-printing face shields, which have sometimes been difficult to source commercially. Researchers can wear these shields in addition to the required masks to create a solid barrier against airborne particles.

“I read several articles that said a mask plus a shield has been found to significantly reduce the threat of infection from COVID-19, so I pitched the project and people were interested,” said Charles P. Cartin, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of makerspaces for the college.

The reusable shields are printed from materials that DuPont Teijin Films donated to the Innovation Lab in April. Each one comprises an adjustable headband and a clear plastic sheet that completely covers the face. Thus far, Cartin and Adam Hamel, who manages the Innovation Lab, have printed about 150 face shields — and counting. No students are involved in shield production because of restricted access to the facility.

“I was trying to find face shields for me and my student teaching assistants when I learned that the Innovation Lab was doing this,” said Frank A. Gulla, P.E., professor of the profession in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering.

Gulla’s shields were ready before the first lab scheduled for his MNE freshman practicum course. Although students complete laboratory work individually, he believes the mask-plus-shield combination is essential for safety.

“I tell my students that it’s like being in your car,” Gulla said. “When you drive, you don’t rely on just the seatbelt or just the airbags. You buckle up even though your car has airbags. You never rely on just one safety measure when two or more are available. Engineering students, especially, should know this.”