Okoboji grad uses tech to supply local emergency personnel

Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Luke Thompson checks on one of the five 3-D printers that have been producing reusable protective masks in his home. Thompson was able to borrow three of the printers from the Okoboji School District, and he plans to donate the masks to local EMTs and police.
Photo submitted

A group of five machines has been steadily working away in Milford, placing one thin layer of plastic on top of another to create protective masks for local emergency personnel as they continue to work amid the spreading novel coronavirus. But these masks aren't being created in a manufacturing facility. Rather, they're in the home of Okoboji High School grad Luke Thompson. The 2018 alumnus was recently loaned three of the Okoboji School District's 3D printers to take on the project, along with a printer from Milford-based manufacturers 966 Industries and, of course, Thompson has been using his own personnel printer.

Thompson said he first experienced 3D printing in an introductory engineering course during his years at Okoboji High School. He said he gained even greater experience with the machines during an internship at 966 Industries this past summer, where the printers were used to create prototypes.

Thompson is currently enrolled as a sophomore at South Dakota State University. The SDSU Board of Regents recently moved all spring courses to an online format and cancelled on-campus events through May 15 in light of the virus' spread. Thompson had heard local emergency personnel were facing a potential shortage of protective gear during the outbreak. He said Miranda Gebhart, a nurse practitioner in Primghar, showed him a social media post in which a group in Billings, Montana, scanned a human face and used it to render a 3D model for the reusable protective masks.

Photo submitted

"I contacted the Okoboji School District and asked if I could use their 3D printers for this project, and they were more than willing to, so I was able to pick up three of their printers and take them to my house," Thompson said.

The Billings group also made the 3D model available as an "open source" meaning the work holds no copyright, and others can use or modify the creation to help improve it or find a new use. Thompson resized the masks and reworked connections meant to hold its straps in place when worn.

Thompson also reached out to TechKnow, a Spencer-based nonprofit focused on technology and education. TechKnow Cofounder John Hass said the company began using its in-house printers to create more masks as of Saturday. The nonprofit is also helping to circulate the new design file for others in the community.

"That is the power of open source," TechKnow Co Founder John Hass said. "You can take somebody's original work and you can adjust it and modify it, but then part of the requirements of open source is giving it back to the world all the changes and everything you made so people can either make their changes or use your stuff."

Hass said he has taken the company's pair of 3D printers home during the COVID-19 outbreak to keep producing masks as often as possible. TechKnow's printers are capable of printing approximately three masks at a time, and Hass said another volunteer Josh Nelson of Spencer has also been printing the masks with machines capable of printing around five masks in one go. Between himself and Nelson, Hass estimates 15 to 20 masks can be produced each day. Thompson said his group of five 3D printers can produce around 25 per day.

"Right now, we are just working on trying to get our local EMTs and police department equipped with these," he said. "Then hopefully, we'll be able to expand to some different towns around the area."

The novel coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets, like those produced when a person coughs or sneezes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The masks being printed cover the wearer's nose and mouth, and Thompson explained a special filter is inserted into each mask to complete the protective gear.

"The filter is a medical grade filter that we bought from the same company that made the 3D model," he said. "Each mask comes with a few different filters, and those filters can be washed and reused multiple times."

Thompson said others in the area have begun printing the masks as well. He specifically highlighted Specialty Archery in Spencer and said his own cousin Nathan Kollasch is also contributing.

"It's very cool seeing the community coming together and everyone reaching out," Thompson said.

Thompson said an email has also been created for the project. Questions or offers to help with the project may be sent to 3dmasksiowa@gmail.com.

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