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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Vermont Makerspace Hopes To Help Local Hospital By 3D Printing PPE

Face shields and a person working.
Generator, Courtesy
Burlington's Generator makerspace is churning out protective face shields for possible use by local medical professionals.

Vermont is requesting ventilators, masks, gowns and other supplies for patients and medical workers from the federal government, but there are also efforts around the state to make more protective equipment for hospitals.

Generator makerspace in Burlington's South End, for instance, is using its laser cutters and 3D printers to create prototypes for face shields and other protective equipment. If they’re approved for use by UVM Medical Center, they could be produced for that hospital to use in treating COVID-19 patients. 

VPR's Henry Epp spoke with Generator Executive Director Meg Hammond. The interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So tell us more about the prototypes that are being made at Generator. How are they being made exactly, and where did the designs come from?

Meg Hammond: Currently, we just went into a very small, what I'm calling a boutique manufacturing production. We have four employees working in an 11,000 square-foot building, safely distant and working with gloves and protective gear themselves. They're working on a design that Jake Blend took from many open sources and then tailored in Generator for a face shield. The face shield is intended to go over a nurse or a doctor's head. It is adjustable for all sizes. It comes with a headband and a plastic visor, and is put together with a few snaps and an elastic band.

And how quickly can generator and other makerspaces be producing this equipment for potential use in hospitals?

We're still getting a little bit of an answer on that. I mean ... at Generator, we have two laser cutters. They are high-end laser cutters, and we have about five 3D printers. We're also working with Beta, who has a print farm and — Beta Technologies, that is — and they have about 10 printers. It takes somewhere around an hour, hour-and-a-half to to have a headband printed. So, I think, you know, in a day we could probably produce 100, but we're still working out the kinks in how many finished products that we can produce as well as considering going into fulfillment. So we could package these things safely and considering all of our own sanitary practices.

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If you were working in normal circumstances where people didn't have to be socially distanced, I assume that those circumstances sort of change what you're able to produce.

Absolutely. And, you know, keep in mind, Generators' a makerspace. We have tools that people are sharing, mostly sharing their expertise, their ideas, their creations, inventions. We're not set up like a factory. So we're trying to act like a mini-factory right now. But we don't have all the shortcuts that would allow this process to go extremely fast. But what we are doing is getting very close to putting some equipment in the hands of the people that are most at-need right now, who are bravely on the front lines.

And of course, this is also happening at different scales, you know, across the country. How helpful can makerspaces like Generator be in terms of your ability to produce PPE and get it into the hands of hospitals like UVM?

I think that we all know at this point the need is urgent. And if you know somebody that's working at a hospital or a medical center, I'm sure they'll let you know that they are urgently wanting this critical PPE. And so I think makerspaces can make a difference right now. There are a lot of steps. You know, everyone says the devil's in the details here. And it's true. We are working night and day, a large team of us, making sure that everything is really safe, and making sure that it is something that's going to help the people in the medical industry. And so there's a lot of things to consider.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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