By CHARLIE BIER
For University of Louisiana at Lafayette mechanical engineering instructor Yasmeen Qudsi, a 3-D printer, a computer-controlled "cutting plotter" and thousands of sheets of laminating paper have been essential supplies as she works remotely during the coronavirus outbreak.
In addition to teaching and advising students, Qudsi created hundreds of face shields for the Lafayette General Health System. The work was part of a comprehensive volunteer effort at UL Lafayette to help the health system as supply chains have been slowed during the outbreak.
Face shields are a form of personal protective equipment, or PPE's, worn by health care workers as a barrier against fluid-borne pathogens. The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from coughs, sneezes or saliva. The shields consist of two components - a plastic frame, or headband, and a transparent shield.
Using online "public domain" designs approved by the National Institutes of Health, some volunteers, like Qudsi, worked from home. Others used 3-D printers on campus to create headbands with plastic ordinarily used for engineering or art projects. Volunteers also used University laser cutters to notch holes in the laminate so the sheets can be attached to the headbands.
As the nation's health care system grapples with supply shortages, elbow grease and ingenuity are filling critical voids, Qudsi explained. Case in point: With shortages of the transparent plastic customarily used for the shields, she came up with the idea to use easily accessible laminating sheets. "They're a great substitute. They do what they are supposed to do."
Dr. Jaimie Hebert, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said the volunteer effort is an example of the University's responsibility - and role - to serve as a community partner.
"Health care professionals are working tirelessly to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. We feel it is our obligation to assist them while they are giving so selflessly of themselves to help ensure the well-being of others," he said.
The University created about 800 frames and almost 4,000 transparent shields during the project, said Dr. Kumer Das, assistant vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Development and assistant provost. Das began coordinating the campus effort after Lafayette General Health System reached out to the University about two weeks ago.
Dr. Alan Barhorst, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, tracked down 3-D printers and laser cutters on campus, including several in different engineering departments. The Ray P. Authement College of Sciences, the College of Nursing and Allied Professions, and the College of the Arts also provided equipment or expertise.
"We all felt compelled to help fill the supply chain by donating our time and skills to help the hospital until commercial entities could source the supplies they needed," Barhorst said.
The College of the Arts opened its digital fabrication lab to students and faculty members willing to work alone during shifts coordinated by Michael McClure, associate dean for the college and a professor of architecture. McClure also relied on his experience with 3-D printers to contribute to the effort.
"The goal was to make as many of the shields as we could, and that wouldn't have been possible without so many people willing to contribute," he said.
In a related project, Peter Schexnayder, a doctoral student in chemical and systems engineering, is producing face mask extenders for Lafayette General Health System. The plastic extenders are designed for surgical-type masks worn by health care workers over their mouths and noses. They are typically held in place with elastic looped behind a wearer's ears.
The extenders being produced by Schexnayder, which fit at the back of the head, have teeth to which the elastic can be attached. This prevents a wearer from having to hook the elastic behind their ears.
Schexnayder got the idea for the project after seeing a similar project on Facebook. "I expect to crank out 40 to 50 a day, and I have enough material to make over 500."
Cian Robinson is LGHS' executive director for Innovation, Research, and Real Estate Investments. He said collaboration with the University - and several local businesses - has provided indispensable support.
"We appreciate our community partners such as the University, Pelican Engineering, Pixus Digital Printing and Noble Plastics who produced PPE's in this time of need. It took time and attention to detail to create products approved by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Health Administration, and for that we are very grateful," Robinson said.