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Harvard’s Design School 3-D Prints Protective Equipment for Healthcare Workers Battling COVID-19

Gund Hall is the home of the Graduate School of Design.
Gund Hall is the home of the Graduate School of Design. By Kai R. McNamee
By Elizabeth H. Gellert, Crimson Staff Writer

After Harvard’s campus operations largely halted due to the novel coronavirus last month, the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s fleet of 3-D printers has been put to work producing personal protective equipment for medical personnel at nearby hospitals.

Following weeks of conversation and planning, the printers began generating visors and face shields on Saturday and have continued operating since then, completing 90 face shields by the end of the weekend.

Stephen Ervin, the Design School’s Assistant Dean for Information Technology, has been overseeing production. Ervin runs the school’s fabrication lab, which houses the 3-D printers and other tools typically used for student projects.

After realizing that it would not be feasible to continue operating the lab for student use in the wake of Harvard’s closure, Ervin said he and a number of other Design School affiliates shifted their attention to looking for ways to help the medical community.

After consulting with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation, the Design School formulated a design for visors and face shields, and sent it to the printers.

“A number of places around the world were stepping up saying, ‘We know there’s a shortage of PPE in all kinds of hospitals,’ and there was a fair amount of enthusiasm among GSD faculty, staff and students to figure out some kind of a way to get in on that and make use of our idle fabrication facilities,” ’Ervin said.

Christopher Hansen, the Design School’s digital fabrication technical specialist, has been working in the lab to produce these masks and shields, which he says is just a new way of utilizing the existing resources of the fabrication lab.

“One of the things that makes the GSD unique, and the reason why we have 127 3-D printers is that part of the classwork requires a lot of model making,” he said. “Given the GSD’s nature and the culture of making things it wasn’t very hard for us to say okay well we have this one model, we know it works, and now we can just produce it as much as possible.”

The school currently plans to produce around 3,500 visors and laser cut around 800 face shields over the course of this week, after which its supplies will run out. Hansen said he and others are searching for additional materials — by way of both purchases and donations — in hopes of continuing production.

“The bottleneck now is the clear material for the shield itself — that’s hard to get a hold of now,” Hansen said. “The other day, there was a guy in Lexington who had ordered a bunch of sheets off of Amazon and said, ‘Hey, I have all of these sheets, can you use them?’ So I went out and picked them up.”

“It’s very grassroots now,” he added. “There are a lot of individual people trying to contribute whatever resources they have.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth H. Gellert can be reached at elizabeth.gellert@thecrimson.com.

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Graduate School of DesignDesign SchoolCoronavirus