College Students Using MakerLab to Make Needed Mask, Tools

May 04, 2020

Reproduced with permission from Grinnell Herald Register

Despite being closed to the public, Grinnell’s maker lab (MLab) has kept its machines running to support the Grinnell community and central Iowa through the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and PPE-making tools.

MLab is a collaborative maker space and fabrication lab that is run as a partnership between Grinnell College’s Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership and the Grinnell Area Arts Council. Housed in The Stew Art Studios at 927 Broad St., the MLab has a woodworking shop, computer numerical control tools, a laser cutter, a 3D printing room with multiple printers, electronics, sewing equipment, and more, and the MLab just opened a metal shop.

Under normal conditions, students in Grinnell K-12 schools and Grinnell College can use the space free of charge, and MLab is available to the broader public for use at a small fee. Individuals can participate in regularly scheduled workshops or come in at their own leisure during open hours, once they have received basic training and opened an account. Due to COVID-19, the space is closed to the public until further notice.

Maker labs are designed for problem solving. Recognizing the value of the equipment in the public health crisis, the college and arts council have supported two Grinnell College student MLab staff to continue working in the space. Fourth-year students Sage Kaplan-Goland ’20 and Bella Kugel ’20 have been putting the MLab’s tools and resources to good use making PPE and other supplies to donate.

Kaplan-Goland, a physics major from near Columbus, Ohio, and Kugel, a Milwaukee native earning an independent study degree in agronomy and economic ethnography, have been involved with MLab from its beginning as a concept. Kaplan-Goland says he has been “making things” all his life including participating in robotics competition in high school, and found nowhere to continue that lifelong practice when he arrived at Grinnell college as a first-year student.

Kugel, too, have always made things, growing up in a household with a fine finish carpenter father and an art teacher mother who told Kugel to “go make something” if she complained of boredom. She especially does woodworking and silversmithing and found when she entered Grinnell College that art studios are open only to art majors. They began talking with Wilson Center Director Monty Roper and Grinnell Area Arts Council’s Tom Lacina about a downtown maker space open to all.

Bella Kugel '20 displaying parts made on the MakerLab's 3D printers

Both the Wilson Center and Arts Council were interested, and Kaplan-Goland worked the summer after his first year at Grinnell College planning how to establish a maker lab and his second year writing grants and making specific plans. MLab opened in the fall of his third year at Grinnell with Kaplan-Goland as the overall manager, and he is concluding his time at the College as one of two people still using the MLab tools. Kugel, who studied abroad during her third year at Grinnell, has served as an MLab monitor during the current school year.

Kaplan-Goland says that people know he makes things, and he gets emails regularly suggesting products. When the novel coronavirus emergency arrived, he learned that maker labs could make face shields and masks much more quickly than manufacturing sites which need to tool up and train before making new products. He and Kugel started immediately looking for materials and assembling masks.

Their work started out by producing clear face shields using a model shared to the maker lab community. So far, Kaplan-Goland and Kugel have produced 155 face shields and masks and are working on 200 more, using acetate donated to the work by Total Choice Shipping and Printing. The two added foam and elastic they picked up in bulk with purchases funded by the MLab materials budget, provided by the College’s Wilson Center, to make complete masks.

The masks are being donated to Poweshiek County’s stockpile of PPE managed by the Poweshiek County Emergency Management Agency with which Grinnell College’s Sarah Smith is working.

Kaplan-Goland began to notice comments on Facebook pages by seamstresses making fabric face masks. Some recounted experiencing fabric burn while running material through their fingers to make bias tape for which a simple plastic tool can be made on a 3D printer. Others mentioned the need for pleating jigs, two pieces of plastic that can be placed on both sides of a piece of fabric to produce pleats.

The two makers reached out on an Iowa Facebook sewing group to see if others would benefit from such tools. With multiple 3D printers, they can make 12 pairs of jigs every 12 hours and have already donated 40 pairs of jigs and have requests for 93 more. They are making bias tape makers in three sizes and can print one about every two hours. They have given out 30 and have requests for 71 more. Thus far they are filling requests from local mask-makers and will begin mailing the tools as more are produced.

They also learned from local seamstresses that having templates to cut stacks of fabric for masks would be helpful and purchased acrylic an eighth of an inch thick from Malcolm Lumber they are cutting with the MLab laser cutter. Each mask has three pieces, and they have made 25 sets of templates thus far and have more than 50 more requests for templates.

Kaplan-Goland and Kugel are using instructions for the 3D printers created by others and shared among maker space people. They are looking for other items they can make that will help people during the COVID-19 emergency. Kaplan-Goland says he has seen discussion among maker space workers wondering if the valuable N95 respirator masks, used by medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients, could be made on 3D printers.

“It’s amazing to see the collective action people are doing in response to the pandemic,” Kugel says. “We’re trying to stay abreast of what other maker labs are doing. I’m glad we’re not just sitting on all this tools and all this resources without doing something with them.”

The MLab donated 3D printing filament to the group led by Bill Gruman which is printing face shields on 3D printers in their homes. Gruman and Craig Shore have joined in printing the aids to mask-making on their own devices and contributing them to the MLab stock.

Kugel and Kaplan-Goland, both graduating from Grinnell College this May, are living in town and finishing their classes remotely like the rest of the student body. They plan to stay in Grinnell for the next year and work on a small business focused on making things people need or want. While planning for that venture has been set aside for the PPE work, they say they have developed relationships in Grinnell with people who can help them learn what they need to know to continue to put their skills to good use and will return to their business venture when they can.

Visit MLab for more information.

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