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While the nation braces for the COVID-19 surge, Evan Meier, a sixth-grader at Discovery Middle in Madison, has stepped up to produce masks and face shields for hospital care workers.

It’s a mission he’s committed himself to, considering the demand for the protective equipment and his desire to make full use of the 3D printer he had earned for making good grades at school.

“My son has been in the gifted learning classes where they use 3D printers and software to design items for their personal projects,” Thomas Meier, chief, Military Support Division, Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, said. “We spent $130 each to purchase a 3D printer and he’s since used it for school projects, gifts, tools, fun gadgets and even a key chain holder that keeps an iPhone headphone.”

Evan’s interest in making the masks, then face shields began earlier in March when his aunt sent them a link to a community project in Boston where they were making 3D filtered masks.

That message resonated with the young student “engineer.”

“So, we started printing that design and my wife started making fabric masks,” Meier said. “We’ve supplied nurses, a neighbor’s son who is an EMT (emergency medical technician), and even provided some backup gear for a physician we know – just in case they ran out on the front lines.”

Realizing the homemade masks had not been evaluated for a tight fit or particle filtration efficiency and that some experts said they may pose an even greater risk of giving wearers a false sense of security, we started looking for different ways to help, Meier said.

The father and son took notice of the online 3D printing community and how it shared designs for printing headgear to mount face shields on.

“Unlike filtered masks, there are no strict design and testing protocols with associated liability issues,” Meier said. “They are considered alternate eye protection and don’t have a lot of standards required. What they do is prevent a sneeze or cough from hitting the health care worker’s face when working with COVID-19 patients. So, they are highly valued on the front lines.”

Evan quickly switched over to making the face shields instead.

“To date, we, along with 235 other Huntsville area volunteers, have dropped off over 3,800 of these shields,” Meier said. “They are being distributed to area health care and first responders upon request.”

Evan said the filtered mask takes around six hours to make, while the headgear for a shield takes about 45 minutes to five hours, depending on the quality and strength needed.

“On our entry-level 3D printer, the Huntsville standard face shield takes about five hours to print,” he said. “And we’ve already printed 25.”

Though his aunt was his initial inspiration, Evan said he was further motivated by watching the YouTube channel’s “Smarter Every Day” program.

Hosted by Destin Sandlin, a missile flight test engineer and science communicator at Redstone Arsenal, the program is geared toward inspiring the next generation of engineers.

“Destin lives here in Huntsville,” Evan said. “He asked people to start printing face shields, so he really inspired me. Then when I dropped off the face shields, I got to see him in person. That was cool!”

Evan says the face shields aren’t difficult to make.

“I download the file from the Internet, put it into a slicer program, change the settings so that it works, pop it into the printer, select the file and go,” he said. “The machine does all the work.”

Meier explained the process.

“The 3D printing machine melts the plastic and squirts it out of a tiny nozzle, moving the melted plastic stream around leaving thin layers from top to bottom,” he said. “It’s like icing a cake, but with 0.2 mm accuracy and the icing is plastic.”

It’s a simple process, but one in which Evan admits his mother doesn’t quite understand.

“It’s been primarily my dad and I doing the work,” he said. “My mom still wonders how the machine works, but she’s a nurse and works at the Huntsville Hospital. So she provides us the ‘customers’ to supply. She also sews the fabric masks.”

“Katherine’s a nurse and the valve program coordinator for the Heart Center at the Huntsville Hospital,” Meier said. “And we’re both very proud of Evan.”

It’s their son’s commitment and dedication to the project that inspires others as well.

“Yes, and our work has inspired other people we know to buy 3D printers and to help out once they realize how cheap the printers are and what they can do,” Evan said.

He encourages individuals wishing to join the effort to visit www.huntsvillefightingcovid.com.

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