The Story Behind SCH Faculty's COVID 3D Printing Project

The Story Behind SCH Faculty's COVID 3D Printing Project

This past spring, while most of us looked for ways to fill the hours while sequestered at home, two enterprising SCH faculty, Peter Randall and David Cool, stayed productive by helping the area medical community with an urgent need. 

After SCH cut short its spring semester and closed down in March, Randall, chair of Engineering and Robotics, and Cool, new media and robotics instructor, requisitioned the school’s 3D printers and brought them home where they put them to work 24/7 producing thousands of plastic frames for face shields. The two also supplied the face shields for the frames, although Cool noted that “It became very hard to find the right materials as supplies quickly dried up” requiring him to go through “many iterations trying different materials.”

Funds and supplies to support their efforts came from multiple sources, including Laird Plastics (a robotics team sponsor), SCH, the SCH Robotics Team, and a funding initiative on Facebook launched by Cool.

In the spirit of “think globally, act locally,” the SCH teachers’ home-based manufacturing efforts were part of a worldwide initiative led by thousands of private citizens and organizations to fill a critical shortfall in the world’s medical supply chains. This supply crisis shed light on the potential future of manufacturing and underscored the real power and importance of collaboration.

“The key to our response was our ability to begin 3D printing production in a matter of hours,” explains Randall. “Working with a former SCH student now in Penn’s venture accelerator program, Pennovation, we were able to join with production teams from Penn, other independent schools, and area robotics teams. Pennovation supported the gathering, packaging, and distribution of the supplies.” 

Cool worked through his networks including the Facebook-based PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Fab Crew, which coordinated delivery of supplies to area hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance drivers, and other groups. Cool, who is a member of MIT’s international Fab Lab Network, drew inspiration and production tips from Fab Lab members around the world.

“During the video conferences you could see what many other individuals, groups, and organizations were doing and how they approached the problem. You could also see perspectives from other countries, which was really insightful. I think the pandemic exposed how the largest governmental organizations and traditional manufacturing supply chains quickly ran into bottlenecks and ultimately failed to deliver at critical moments,” Cool says.

“This is where digital fabrication stepped in and really shined. Individuals and small groups collaborated and shared both designs, resources, knowledge, and time in the truest sense of the Open Source community. Through generous financial support from individuals and organizations like SCH, makers all over the world were able to step up and meet the needs of their local communities in the most critical of times. I think this clearly demonstrates not just the power of distributed manufacturing and design, but gave real clarity around the importance of teaching our students this mindset and these skills so they can positively transform their futures and the futures of us all.” 

Note: As a result of his COVID 3D production experience, David Cool and over 100 like-minded individuals from many countries were signatories to an open letter, published on October 1 in the internationally prominent Le Monde newspaper in France advocating for policy changes to support the development of distributed manufacturing. The original article is in French, so please scroll down for an English translation here.


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