UH-Hilo Computer Science Department 3-D printers working to help during pandemic

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Michael Dodge, a fourth-year electrical engineering student at UH-Manoa, ties a transparent sheet onto the 3-D printed holders to create a face shield May 15 at UH-Hilo.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald A 3-D printer creates a plastic holder for a face shield May 15 in a computer science lab at UH-Hilo.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Francis Cristobal, junior faculty specialist in the Computer Science Department at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, talks May 15 about the 3-D printing process for face shields. Cristobal and some students have been 3-D printing face shields to donate to essential employees.

The 3-D printers worked steadily Friday, the whirring sound of the machines filling the small lab at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Here, the UH-Hilo Computer Science Department is working to print prototype reusable face shields to be used during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“There’s a lot of prototypes, a lot of samples of this online you can download,” said Francis Cristobal, junior faculty specialist in the department. “So we looked at all the different features and we picked out what are the most useful features of this frame and we made our own … “

The 3-D printed frames are compatible with transparent sheet protectors that are used as the actual shields. An elastic band is used to secure the frame and shield to one’s head.

“We’re glad we could help,” Cristobal said. “We’re a very isolated island and not many supplies get here right away. We have the 3-D equipment and surplus filaments, so we made a couple for the community.”

Joining forces with students, Cristobal said with the time, equipment and materials available, stepping up to help was a no-brainer.

In a whole day, the group can print about 25 face shields on its three printers.

The department began printing about a month ago and so far, the department has given out 150 shields to the organizations with which it partnered.

Cristobal said the department partnered with the UH-Hilo Art Department and organizations outside the UH system, including the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, HI-STEM Community Care and the Hawaii Science and Technology Museum.

“We can scale up, but we scale up by connecting to our partners,” Cristobal said.

Assisting with the effort is Michael Dodge, a fourth-year electrical engineering student at UH-Manoa who grew up in Pahoa, who said it’s been an “awesome” project.

“I’ve been able to apply skills in 3-D design as well as be able to advance my 3-D printing knowledge,” he said. “I have some sort of basic to intermediate level knowledge (of 3-D printing), but over the past two months, I’ve probably learned more than I had in two years of just casual (use).”

While previous internal printing projects were on a smaller scale, Dodge said “it’s much nicer now to make things that can generate support and protect communities as opposed to sort of small side projects … It’s good to outreach and to help others with our skills.”

Cristobal said they’ll print as long as they have materials.

The reusable face shields are free.

Requests, which will be prioritized for health care and front-line workers, can be made by emailing Cristobal at frcristo@hawaii.edu.

Anyone interested in donating to the Computer Science Department to cover materials for the project can visit giving.uhfoundation.org and select fund No. 12434804.

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The department also can take donations of materials — 3-D printer PLA filament, 8.5-inch-by-11-inch clear protection sheets and quarter-inch flat elastic.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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