Ivy Tech Kokomo faculty producing needed medical PPE

Last Updated on April 26, 2020 by Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region

KOKOMO – More than six weeks ago, as the understanding of the impact of the coronavirus grew, life dramatically changed. The parking lots of Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Campus are emptied of the cars of students, faculty, and staff. The classrooms and labs stand vacant as education continues online. But one lab has been humming more than 16 hours a day, as two faculty members work to help meet the healthcare community’s need for personal protective equipment.

Since April 6, Josh Speer, dean of Ivy Tech Kokomo’s School of Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering, and Applied Science, and Tony Tony, chair of its Engineering Technology program, have been running a dozen 3D printers. The printers are producing plastic headband/visors for the face shields needed to protect healthcare personnel on the frontlines of treating COVID-19 patients throughout Indiana.

In the first week of the effort, Ivy Tech Kokomo produced more than 500 headbands, Speer said, noting they may be able to ramp up to as many as 700 per week. It’s part of a statewide initiative Ivy Tech has undertaken in collaboration with the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

Speer said he and Tony are happy to be part of a way that Ivy Tech can make an impact in the fight against the coronavirus. “We’re shipping the headbands we make along with shields that we have sourced so they can be assembled at the point of use,” he said. “These shields are worn over the healthcare provider’s N-95 mask, extending the life of these scarce pieces of PPE and offering better protection to provider and patient alike.”

Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann shared this news earlier this week: “Thanks to the talented folks and 3D printers on 11 campuses, 4,300 face shields are on their way to Indiana hospitals, nursing homes, fire departments, medical clinics and health departments with a central distribution center at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We anticipate producing more than 4,000 per week.

“In addition, our Madison campus printed 750 ear surgical mask straps for hospitals and nursing homes,” she continued. “We will produce more of these consistent with statewide demand as well,” she continued. “We are grateful for the faculty and staff who have contributed to serving others during this time of unprecedented need.”


Speer noted that instruction in the 3D printing technology used to “print” the face shield headbands is now part of Ivy Tech curriculum in the Mechanical Engineering Technology and Engineering Technology programs and an elective in the Machine Tool Technology program. He said this prepares Ivy Tech graduates to work in an area the industry calls “additive manufacturing” that is widely used in testing and development.

“Typically, 3D printing has not been meant for production,” Speer said. “The great thing about 3D printing is it is helping get items into production faster. What we are doing is simulating that. We are able to print a product that can be used. It may cost more than traditional methods of production, but it is quick and works and fills the short-term gap.”

As part of Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Transformation, the Industrial Technology Center currently under reconstruction will include a room designed for 3D printing.

“Instead of an old room retrofitted for a new technology, we’ll have a space dedicated to this type of work,” Speer said. “The 3D printing process builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design model, usually by successively adding material layer by layer. In our new facility, we’ll be able to locate the printers next to the design machines.”

While Ivy Tech currently offers instruction on 3D printers that use plastic and cost about $2,000 each, Speer noted that some manufacturers now have million-dollar machines that “print” in metal. “Now that we have ‘additive manufacturing’ using metal, complex blanks can be made and then machined, reducing production time,” he said. “This is starting to revolutionize the industry once again.”

Speer says the renovation will include room for a full-scale metal 3D printer in the future, should funding become available. “We have the space. We just need the money to do it,” he said.

“With the way industry is changing in our area, I would love to see corporate sponsors or manufacturers place one in our facility,” he continued. “We are training the future workforce to use these machines. Our engineering students need to know how to design to use 3D technology and our machining students need to know how to handle, create fixtures, and machine the very delicate blanks they can produce.”

Work on the second phase of the Kokomo Campus Transformation, including both the Industrial Technology Center and the Agriculture and Automotive Center, is continuing.

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