Minnesota teacher forms 'Shield Squad' of 3D printer owners to make face shields for health care workers

Students haven’t been on the campus of St. Thomas Academy for three weeks, but one teacher is working hard to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Located in Mendota Heights, St. Thomas Academy is the only all-male Catholic college prep military high school in Minnesota. Now the school is helping arm the people on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.

"Normally the 3D printers in the innovation center are running around the clock when our students are here, and it seemed silly they are sitting dormant while we have a crisis going on that could be helped by the use of the 3D printers," said Mark Westlake, St. Thomas' Innovation Center director.

Since the students have been doing distance learning for the last couple of weeks or so, Westlake decided to use the 3D printers in the school's innovation center to make face shields. The shields are then donated to local healthcare workers and first responders who say personal protection equipment is in short supply.

"You hear stories about how they are working with cracked shields or it’s so fogged up they can't see out of them, so it’s an easy thing for us to do quickly," Westlake said.

Using one 3D printer at the school and three others at his home, Westlake said he can produce about 20 face shields a day. But, he and another teacher in Boston are crowdsourcing their effort, sending electronic blueprints for the face shields to about 80 other people with 3D printers around the country to help produce the equipment themselves.

"If I can make 20 and this neighbor down the street can make 20, it doesn’t take long for that to be an exponential process," he said. "So, instead of printing 20, we are printing 200 or 2000 - and we are starting to make a difference."

Westlake knows the "Shield Squad," as they call themselves, can't make enough face shields for everyone who needs one, but he believes they can help fill the gap until commercial production of the plastic shields can keep up with demand.

"If it makes a difference to one doctor who has to go in the front lines of this virus and has to go home to his family, that is a big deal to me and should be a big deal to everybody," he said.

The Shield Squad is looking for other people to 3D print face shields. If you'd like to help, contact Mark Westlake at innovationcenter@cadets.com.