It started small. Molly Teece and David Barry, co-presidents and founders of the UML 3D Club, decided to make face masks using the 3D printers that they own. In the early days of the COVID-19 quarantine, they produced eight masks in their apartments in Lowell.
It was slow going. Each mask took four hours to print, but the students, both junior plastics engineering majors, were not discouraged.
They spread the word on social media about their 3D-printing capabilities. Friends and family members who work in health care fired back that they needed personal protective equipment.
Teece and the group raised money to purchase materials, such as filament. They posted messages on their personal social media accounts and were shocked by the outpouring of support.
“I thought that maybe we’d raise about $60, but couldn’t believe it when our contacts, and people we didn’t even know, contributed more $2,000,” Teece says. “Since it was more money than we needed for materials, we purchased another printer that we plan to donate to UMass Lowell.”
The club's vice president, biomedical engineering major Ethan Chen, also jumped in to help, since he owned his own personal 3D printer.
After receiving feedback from family members that the elastics on the masks caused irritation behind the ears, they got to work again. They downloaded a file and began making 3D-printed ear savers, a band that connects the elastic around the back of the head.
They switched from making masks to plastic face shields to save time and meet demand. The students purchased sheets of clear vinyl, 3D printed the headbands and assembled the face shields.
“We donated more than 300 ear savers to Mass General Hospital, 250 to St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua and smaller quantities to Lowell General Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital,” Teece says. “We also hope to donate to Holy Family Hospital in Methuen and MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham.”
Instant Student Pitch Garners a Corporate Sponsor
Clint Carney ’08, chief financial officer at Semcasting, Inc., learned about the project via social media and reached out to Teece on LinkedIn because his company wanted to help. He says that he was impressed by the professionalism of the students.
“I got on the phone with Molly Teece, who was extremely prepared and spelled out their plans,” says Carney, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Manning School of Business, where he is now an adjunct faculty member.
Before the call, Teece didn’t know what type of donation the company wanted to make, but she was ready to answer Carney’s questions.
“I was a little nervous about the call with him, but I was also prepared,” she says. “I wanted him to fully understand our COVID-response operation before making a donation, so I showed him our detailed accounting spreadsheet and added more information, just in case he had any questions.”
With the donation of the two 3D printers from Semcasting, the three-person team is running two printers each, 24 hours a day. Operating at full capacity, they produce about 40 shields and 80 ear savers per day.
“We had some obstacles to overcome with our printers as we try to balance output and quality, and we've learned a lot in the process,” says Barry.
Founded by the students in the fall of 2019, the UML 3D Club quickly attracted over 30 members across a variety of majors, such as engineering, business and economics.
“We genuinely believe that 3D printing is an important manufacturing technology and we're happy that it's finally gaining mainstream traction and seen as something more than a toy or hobby,” says Barry. “We started making supplies not for the attention or to promote our club, but to help our family and friends who work in hospitals and other frontline occupations.”