K–12 Schools Leverage 3D Printers to Make a Difference

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Hamilton County (Tenn.) Schools has put their 3D printers to work in recent weeks in support of frontline COVID-19 responders.

At the outset of the crisis, the district rounded up its digital fabrication resources in a single lab and has since digitally printed nearly 4,500 headbands to secure face shields for healthcare workers. “We want to educate future leaders who can be thoughtful and can work together to solve real-world problems. This is a great example of that,” says Jill Levine, the district’s chief of innovation and choice.

The district is not alone. Around the nation, K­–12 schools have leveraged their 3D printers to help close critical shortages in personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Students at Camdenton High School in Missouri have used 3D printers to create hundreds of face shields for healthcare workers at a local hospital. West Ashley High in Charleston, S.C., is producing 3D-printed masks with HEPA filters to assist healthcare professionals, and Barboursville (W.Va.) Middle School has 3D printed over 600 masks.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn about the classroom benefits of 3D printers.

Using 3D Printers with an Innovative Mindset

Hamilton County was deeply invested in 3D printing even before the recent pandemic. Three years ago, the district partnered with a local Volkswagen plant, tapping $1 million in state tax incentive money to create digital fabrication labs in 19 schools. (Five more district schools are set to launch similar labs this summer.)

“The innovative design-thinking mindset was already prevalent in our district,” Levine says. “One K–8 school has worked with people with disabilities to create prosthetic devices and tools that help them to work. One school has created a rearview mirror for bikes as a safety feature. Other schools have been making parts for musical instruments, things like 3D-printed reeds for reed instruments.”

When the need for PPE emerged, the district gathered all 73 of its 3D printers, including equipment from Dremel, to create a 3D printer farm at STEM School Chattanooga. Teachers volunteer their efforts in the open space — no more than eight at a time, for social distancing — and some share the fabrication process with students via Zoom for Education.

In addition to 3D printing the headbands, the district is also using its tools to laser-cut foam padding to ensure the plexiglass masks can be worn comfortably for many hours.

“We worked with local doctors to prototype the kinds of things they would be using, and we’ve heard feedback that the ones we are producing are more comfortable than the standard-issue ones,” Levine says.

K–12 Schools Leverage 3D Printers to Make a Difference
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