WEST WARWICK — On his family’s dining room table, a 3D printer spends hours every day slowly producing pieces to be assembled into face shields that will be donated toward the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We hope that what we are doing right now can help stop the coronavirus,” Seth Giguere, a junior at West Warwick High School, said over the whir of the printer.
Giguere and a few of his peers in the Facilities, Operations and Management program at West Warwick High School are making the reusable face shields to give to front-line emergency and health professionals around Rhode Island.
“We hope that it can make a difference,” Giguere continued.
Working with their industrial technology teacher Michael Shunney, the students — Giguere, juniors Jake Spence and Johnna Gallo and senior Alec Montaquila — have been working on the project from their homes using the school’s 3D printers.
Sean Doyle, chair of the Industrial Technology Department at West Warwick High School and president of the West Warwick Teachers’ Alliance, said Thursday he’s “blown away” by the work that the students and their teacher have done.
“It’s just so rewarding to see students being able to contribute to a real world problem at a time of extreme crisis,” Doyle said. “I don’t even really have the words for it.”
On the first day of distance learning, Shunney posted an article for his students to read about a firm in the Czech Republic that’s been manufacturing 3D-printed face shields for use by healthcare workers. Along with the reading, students were asked to answer a series of related questions.
The final question posed to his students, Shunney recalled, asked whether they thought creating face shields was something they could do. And after learning more about the shortage both globally and locally of personal protective equipment, Shunney said, he decided to reach out to some of his students to see if they could pitch in to help address that dire need.
“In those classes, we try to do as much project-based learning as we can,” Shunney said. “But I never envisioned that we would use 3D printers to help solve a world pandemic.”
The local teachers union and Superintendent Karen Tarasevich have enthusiastically supported the project, Doyle said.
“All of the credit really goes to [Shunney] and the kids involved,” Doyle added, lauding the students and their teacher for undertaking the project.
Using open source files, Shunney and his students were able to jump right into producing the face shields.
The printers are now running nearly constantly, slowly printing headbands and bases out of rolls of filament which are then attached to acetate sheets. The finished products will add a critical layer of protection for medical staff on the front line.
Many of the materials for the shields are being purchased by the teachers union, Doyle said, and the school district just approved the expedited purchase of eight more 3D printers so even more shields can be produced.
The students will continue to make the shields for “as long as they’re needed,” Doyle added.
“Our plan is to print until the machines break, we run out of filament, or the virus goes away,” said Shunney, who added that their initial goal is to make 1,000 face shields.
More than 120 were delivered Wednesday to Care New England members, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers & Health Professionals, and the Town of West Warwick.
Jeffrey Varone, West Warwick Emergency Management Agency director and chief of the fire department, said Wednesday that the equipment arrived “just in time.”
“Our supply of disposable face shields are limited,” Varone said shortly after Giguere visited the fire station to drop off more than 30 face shields. “These face shields will help us bridge the gap and provide a level of protection to our members until the national shortages are remedied.”
The project has earned praise from its beneficiaries and local officials, alike.
As bad news abounds, Rep. Tom Noret said it warmed his heart to see students using their distance learning experience to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. He said he “couldn’t be prouder.”
“These young engineers are showing us not only that a career and technical education can have far-reaching ramifications on the world, but that they have mastered the technology in a single week of distance learning,” said Noret, who represents District 25 in the General Assembly,
Noret lauded Shunney and his students for “being proactive and making the world a better place.”
Doyle shared a similar sentiment.
“This is really the culmination of everything that we do to try to support kids coming together,” Doyle added. “It’s just amazing.”