Project Lead the Way teachers are using 3D printers to make hundreds of ear saver straps and face shields

Appoquinimink School District teachers are finding a way to blend technology with community service.

Appo Project Lead the Way, the district’s engineering curriculum, teachers are using 3D printers to make hundreds of ear saver straps and face shields for hospital workers throughout the northeast.

Brian Clifton, PLTW teacher at Alfred G. Waters Middle School, said he started printing to give supplies to his mother-in-law who works for Crozer Hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania.

“My mother-in-law works as a labor delivery nurse at Crozer. She came to me and said, ‘Brian, we have nothing,’” he said.

Clifton used his own 3D printer and supplies to donate dozens of ear savers and face shields that he gave directly to his mother-in-law to hand out to the other employees.

“It gets them into the hands of the people who need them right away,” he said.

Expanded donations

What started as a family connection has expanded. Once other nurses that he knew heard what he was doing, he started making the personal protective equipment for them.

The president of his neighborhood Homeowners Association is a nurse at Johns Hopkins. She came to him and told him they had limited PPE, Clifton said.

He has now delivered about 500 ear savers and 200 face shields to workers at Crozer Hospital, Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Chimes Delaware — a community service provider for adults with intellectual, autism and co-occurring disabilities.

“It feels great to use something I am passionate about to provide something that helps someone else,” Clifton said. “It makes me feel good to help them feel safe.”

Principal John Tanner of Alfred G. Waters Middle School said Clifton said it was great seeing him use a combination of his interests and family connection to make a difference.

“He is taking it upon himself to go above and beyond and making what he talks about in class and real and practical,” he said.

The principal said Clifton has a heart for making and sharing with people, noting a shark he made for him in 2017 that sits on his desk.

“He loves his 3D printer and loves creating things for people,” Tanner said. “This is another fun example of his personality. He is always genuinely excited about what he can make with his 3D printer.”

Teachers contributing

Jennifer Mounts, PLTW teacher at Louis L. Redding Middle School, said she started printing around the same time as Brian Clifton, and she printed three N95 masks for her neighbor, a nurse practitioner.

“Taking care of these guys, these could be the people who take care of us tomorrow. So we need to be taking care of each other,” she said.

Clifton said he explored N95 masks, but they required high-quality material for proper protection that he didn’t have the means to get.

To start making something in bulk, Mounts said she printed and donated about 500 ear savers.

“This has been a blessing that we have been able to do this,” Mounts said. “It feels good to still be productive and still show our students this is where engineering goes. This is what we do.”

Some of the other PLTW teachers have followed her and Clifton’s lead.

Amanda Binkley, at Appoquinimink High School, said when she heard about what the two were doing, she volunteered to help them with any production needs.

Binkley said her 3D printer can’t print the face shields, but she can make ear savers.

“If I can help out in any way, it means a lot,” she said. “I am actually going to challenge my students to begin printing.”

She said she made about 60 to 80 ear savers for Clifton’s donations. She said she hasn’t been able to print as many because she doesn’t have as many 3-D printers as he does.

Clifton said he has five 3D printers making the supplies in his house: one personal and four from the school.

“It’s kind of funny. We have a little sweatshop going in my house right now,” he said.

Clifton was using his own materials, but once people from the school found out what he was doing, they started allowing him to use their stock.

He said he has orders for about 125 more face shields and about 200 more ear savers, including donations to ChristianaCare Christiana Hospital and Middletown Emergency Department.

With the settings he thinks provide the best virus and bacterial protection, he can make seven ear savers in three hours and two face shields in three hours.

“I saw a need, tried to fill the need,” Clifton said. “I hope others have the means [to help] will too.”