Bowdoin College staff are making a visor using a 3D printer, then adding a three-holed plastic sheet for health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of Bowdoin College

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Amid a growing number of coronavirus cases and the shortage of protective gear for health care workers, Bowdoin College staff are using 3D printers to create a visor that attaches to a replaceable plastic face shield.

The college has already delivered 14 of the shields to LincolnHealth in Damariscotta, whose parent organization MaineHealth will coordinate who gets the shields from now on.

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“We got together with professors at Bates and Colby colleges to decide who needed what,” said David Israel, who works in Bowdoin’s Academic Technology and Consulting Group. “One of the people had a connection with an emergency room doctor at LincolnHealth, so that was our first shipment.”

With personal protective equipment in short supply throughout Maine and the nation, small operators like Bowdoin are mustering their resources to contribute face masks, shields and other equipment.

Larger outfits, like L.L. Bean and running shoe maker New Balance, are making face masks. Outdoor gear company Flowfold and clothing maker American Roots are collaborating to make face shields. Even the maker of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and Maine Craft Distilling are making high-in-demand hand sanitizer.

The groundswell of activities comes at a time when Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said that more than 109,000 pieces of personal protective equipment including masks, gloves and face shields are being distributed on Friday to health care workers and front-line responders across the state.

With growing patient numbers and no new shipments expected anytime soon from the federal government, it seems every bit helps. Israel said that printing each visor takes 2.5 hours. He is printing almost all day, so he can produce eight daily now from his home. He is waiting for a part to repair a second printer, which will double his visor output.

Israel said other 3D printers around the college will be pulled into the project soon. The child of a Bowdoin professor who has a 3D printer plans to join in as well.

The printer uses spools of plastic to create the visors, which are paired with the clear plastic dividers used in three-ring binders to compose face shields. The visor’s design is approved by the National Institutes of Health. Erin Johnson, a visiting assistant professor of art and digital and computational studies, is fitting the plastic to the visors and delivering them to hospitals.

Bowdoin isn’t the only one stepping up to print visors. Rick Sisco of Canaan is using his 3D printer to assemble face shields that also use old pieces from his kids’ swing sets, according to News Center Maine.

It takes 70 minutes for him to make one frame to hold the plastic shield. He told the Portland TV station that he initially wanted to make them for a local hospital and fire department, but once word got out about what he was doing, he had a lot of requests.

“I’ve had people reach out to me for them that I wasn’t expecting. And I don’t want to turn anybody away,” he told the station.