UAB engineers develop face shield prototype, demonstrating leadership in the midst of coronavirus pandemic

UAB’s School of Engineering produces face shield prototype to assist with PPE shortage due to the coronavirus.

Tim Wick, UAB Engineering, putting together a prototype face shieldUAB’s School of Engineering produce face shield prototype to assist with PPE shortage due to the coronavirus. As the nation continues to face the novel coronavirus, many hospitals and medical professionals are experiencing a severe shortage of face masks and other personal protective equipment.

Engineers in the School of Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are providing assistance by creating face shields that can be put into immediate use by medical personnel at UAB Hospital.

The idea originated with Justin Koch, director of the school’s undergraduate design lab. Koch saw that various maker groups were using 3D printers to make personal protective equipment, and contacted Interim Dean Timothy Wick, Ph.D., about using the school’s printers to create face shields.

“We chose a design that could be made on several manufacturing platforms,” Koch said. “I contacted Scott Bishop at the Alabama Power TAC and Jody Beck at the University of Alabama Productivity Center, and they agreed to help out.” 

With that team in place, it soon became apparent that it would take more than 3D printers to meet the demand.

“It took us two hours to make one headband,” Koch said. “So we switched to laser cutting. We instantly increased production from one to 28 in the same time frame. Now we are on pace to make 1,000 reusable headbands and 10,000 face shields.” 

“I believe we have enough materials to produce 7,000-10,000 or more shields,” Wick said. “This is a great example of a community coming together using innovation and existing resources to meet an urgent demand in a time of crisis.”

Working largely in isolation to comply with social distancing guidelines, the team put together three prototypes that were tested by personnel at UAB Hospital and one of which was approved for use. Earlier this week, Wick delivered 215 head pieces and 766 face shields, with several hundred more expected by week’s end.

“I believe we have enough materials to produce 7,000-10,000 or more shields,” Wick said. “This is a great example of a community coming together using innovation and existing resources to meet an urgent demand in a time of crisis.”