Two 3D printers in Matt Ulrich’s home basement have produced all sorts of fun and useful things over the past year and a half — but nothing as important as what they’re churning out now.
“I’ve mainly used them to make random statues or little trinkets and other cool-looking items,” said Ulrich, an engineer in Micron’s Technology Development department in Boise.
Some examples: cubical coat hangers, a replacement top for a bipod, a battery pack holder for a virtual reality headset and parts for his kids’ Halloween costumes.
Now those 3D printers are running all day to produce parts for face shields that will undoubtedly save lives.
Ulrich and a dozen other members of Micron’s Additive Manufacturing Club — which is focused on 3D printing and other forms of additive manufacturing — are making headbands for face shields that will be used by hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in the Treasure Valley.
“I wanted to come up with some method or something that can just … help, and the printers were sitting kind of idle,” Ulrich said in an interview via Zoom with Martina Trucco, Micron’s vice president and global head of Global Communications & Marketing. “I just wanted to make them come to good use.”
Team members at other Micron sites are making similar contributions to their communities. In Lehi, Utah, McKenzie Stewart used his personal printer to make 200 face shields, which were donated to hospitals locally and in Washington state. Now the Fab 2 team has set a goal of making 2,000 face shields a week.
The MakerLab staff is attaching a clear plastic sheet to the headbands and then delivering them to local hospitals.
Ulrich said it takes about four hours to 3D-print one of the headbands, which are made out of polylactic acid, better known as PLA.
“Working from home has helped, as I’m in the same room as the printers. So when one completes, I just take the print off and start another one up,” he said. “BSU gave us the file of the design they had approved with the hospitals, so we just had to load it up and print it. They combined three or four aspects of different face shield designs that are being used around the world.”
Ulrich’s wife is a nurse at a local hospital, but it’s not one that’s treating patients with COVID-19, so they aren’t using the face shields. She pointed the lead nurse to the stories about BSU’s project, and the information trickled up through the email chains to the hospital CEO, whose office was excited and contacted Boise State.
One comment Ulrich’s wife heard along the way was “Very cool – these with a surgical mask are considered the next best alternative to an N95!”
Two 3D printers in Micron’s Draft & Design department in Boise are also printing the bands, as machine time allows, according to Ronald Steele, a senior mechanical engineer who founded and leads the Additive Manufacturing Club.
The club has been involved in other charitable projects, such as previously building a 3D printer and donating it to a local high school.
Members of the club have printed and donated more than 100 bands to the face shield initiative. And they’re not stopping.
“I haven’t run out of material yet, as I always have a few spools on hand,” Ulrich said. “I ordered a few more since starting this, and those have been delivered. Most of Amazon has 30-day delivery times, but I was able to find a few spools that could be here in just a few days.”
He’s also begun printing plastic strips called “ear savers.” Worn at the back of the head, those are used for hooking to the elastic bands of surgical masks, preventing chaffing on health workers’ ears during long shifts.
Micron liked the idea and has asked for 1,000 of them to be available for team members working on-site.
“I modified the design slightly to be a couple centimeters longer for what my wife needed at her hospital,” Ulrich wrote in an email to team members who were discussing ear savers. “There are hundreds of other designs out there on the 3D printing forums. I’ve had a couple guys ask if they can be even longer so they can put the band on the top/back of their heads rather than on their necks.”
The "Heart of Micron" story series shares human stories about Micron team members helping others and benefiting their communities.