Derek Tillman bought his 3-D printer to have some fun and mess around with the new technology, he said. He never thought that someday it would be churning out sanitary masks around the clock. Tillman is one of a number of local volunteers aiding in the emergency manufacturing of personal protective equipment, in an effort that’s redefining the role of community makerspaces and the potential for hyper-local manufacturing.
The Peterborough resident got involved after ConVal Regional High School industrial arts teacher Abraham Ewing asked if he’d use his machine to respond to a call for additional masks from a doctor at Monadnock Community Hospital. He found open source files for printing masks, and found sanitizing protocol and directions for assembling the straps, seals and filters through Lowell Makes, the makerspace of Lowell, Mass. Tillman said he’d already dropped off “quite a few” to the local doctor as of Monday. “You hit the button, tell it to print, and it starts.” he said.“I’m trying to help out where I can.”
Tillman works in the IT field and is considered an essential employee. When he’s at work, his 15-year-old son switches out colors and checks the machine to keep the masks in production. “My son’s always been by my side for mechanical type stuff,” Tillman said.
Each mask uses less than $3 of filament to make, and the process’s electrical cost is negligible. Every individual printer is a little different, he said, and he had to make slight adjustments for his personal printer after converting the open-source files. So long as somebody checks the quality periodically and refills the machine, it’s mostly a matter of waiting for the machine to print, he said.
Tillman said he’ll print the masks until he’s told to stop, or he runs out of filament. He has enough material for now, but anticipates difficulty in ordering more since Amazon is prioritizing the shipment of essential products. As of Monday, he wouldn’t be able to receive more filament until April 18, he said.
“Every single makerspace that I know of in the state is participating in this project,” MAxT Makerspace Director Roy Schlieben said. “We’ve never collaborated at this level before.” The Peterborough makerspace is using its 3-D printers and laser cutter to manufacture face masks and clear plastic face shields. They received 500 square feet of clear plastic from Nashua makerspace Make It Labs, Schlieben said, and are sharing other materials, designs, and troubleshooting tips between makerspaces on a Slack channel, and exploring the potential for making fabric face masks, hand sanitizer, or even 3-D printing ventilator parts.
The MAxT makerspace machines can print pieces for about 25 masks every 10 hours. “We have enough material to do 1,000 or so of these so far,” Schlieben said. As of Monday, 12 volunteers had donated about 150 face shields to Catholic Medical Center, and sent a sample piece to Monadnock Community Hospital to gauge the local hospital’s interest.
“People sign up every day to keep making stuff,” Schlieben said. Some volunteers are retirees, and others are artists who are out of work and looking for a way to make a positive contribution. The manufacturing is a way the makerspace can help the community, even while members can’t come in to work on their projects in the way they’re used to, he said. Volunteers with 3-D printers at home deliver their parts to a collection box at the makerspace for assembly.
“I had no idea that this is what I’d be doing this year,” Schlieben said, but that the process has helped him understand additional potential for makerspaces. “When there is a shortage in something that needs to be made, we have the equipment,” he said.