PSU Makerspace Responds to Pandemic

When PSU’s Draper and Maynard Makerspace opened for business last fall, the initial plan was to focus on complementing PSU academic programs such as art, robotics, and theatre, and over the course of the year to branch out as a more public resource. Like so many other things, this timeline was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the facility now finds itself focused exclusively on serving regional healthcare needs. 

The makerspace’s state-of-the-industry equipment includes plasma and laser cutters, a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) table, a pipe bender, and 3D printers, among other high-tech machines. The range of equipment and capabilities is comparable to those of the nation’s top technology institutions. 

When the emergency became clear, PSU moved quickly. In little more than a month’s time the makerspace has developed and produced face shields and filter masks. In collaboration with Plymouth’s Speare Memorial Hospital, members of the local and Boston medical communities, and donors, it has been producing ventilator branching devices and flow limiters, so multiple patients can use the same ventilator—up to eight. There has also been a call to build intubation hoods so that patients receiving emergency care do not contaminate the operating room. Prototype branching devices have been delivered to Speare Memorial Hospital for evaluation. 

The pandemic prompted an intensive study of personal protective equipment (PPE) that frontline medical workers depend on. Bret Kulakovich, who designed and manages the facility, considered several open source mask designs before settling on the “Montana” version, which allows users to make use of standard available products as filter media.  

To date, more than 200 pieces of equipment have been made and production is ramping up as efficiencies in materials and manufacturing processes are incorporated. After making face shield brackets through 3D printing, Kulakovich switched to using the CNC ShopBot to make them from polycarbonate plastic. The latter method takes about two minutes each, as opposed to the previous hour-per-bracket procedure.  

(Some of this work appears here, and there is also a  24/7 PPE Production Live Stream on YouTube.) 

Kulakovich has worked closely with Speare Memorial Hospital, which specified a type of preferred face shield out of several possibilities that he introduced. The hospital has been the primary recipient of the facility’s output, and Plymouth Fire-Rescue has also accepted a delivery of face shields. The University is considering other requests through the outreach of Director of Environmental Health and Safety Katie Caron and Director of Government Relations Marcia Schmidt Blaine. 

“One of the greatest concerns we had facing the COVID pandemic was securing enough personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields, to keep our staff safe,” said Kris  Hering, MSN, RN, NE-BC, FACHE, chief nursing officer, Speare Memorial Hospital. “Hearing of our need, Bret and the Makerspace immediately offered to help. They provided us with a prototype shield that our staff trialed, and they asked for feedback and made adjustments to meet our clinicians’ specifications. What an immense relief it was for all of us to know that this local resource could meet this need for us!” 

All of the production to date has been  done by Kulakovich with assistance from Student Fellow Jess Sullivan ’20. When the need for new types of production became apparent, Sullivan suspended their existing projects for a cybersecurity startup and a collaboration benefiting drivers to focus on maintaining machines and updating systems.  

“Jess has done excellent work, which is allowing us to keep producing these needed medical supplies,” said Kulakovich. “I’ve done the rest solo because the building is closed for safety reasons and I’m mindful of social distancing so that I can keep this effort moving. For both of us it’s Ut Prosim — that we may serve.” 

The makerspace contribution is just one of the ways that PSU has marshalled forces to combat the pandemic. The University’s ice arena has been repurposed as an Alternate Care Site for potential use by Speare Memorial Hospital, and PSU’s Office of Community Impact is collecting donations and fielding queries for volunteer assistance.  

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