For US teen, 3D printer becomes tool to help healthcare workers

Dan Simmons

THE WASHINGTON POST – Normally early spring marks a time of transition for David Simmons, from the basketball court to the baseball diamond, from playing point guard to manning second base. But this year was unlike any other, for him and everyone else, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With sports cancelled and school in his small Illinois town of Monmouth moved online, the 13-year-old shifted the focus of his free time. He read news reports about healthcare workers treating patients with COVID-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes, without adequate personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields. An avid user of 3D printing technology, he sought a way to put that passion to use helping the nation at a time of need.

The goal set him off on a quest that, after hours of research and tinkering, succeeded. He printed his first batch of adjustable plastic headbands that hold see-through face shields in early March and has been printing them as fast as he can.

When everything is running smoothly, the printer produces eight headbands in 24 hours. It’s a complicated process that involves programming the machine, which builds the products by stacking layer after layer of melted filament string, as directed by the instructions.

Once the band is done, Simmons attaches it to a clear plastic sheet, similar to the transparency sheets teachers use on overhead projectors. Another plastic piece attaches to the bottom to hold the shield in place.

He’s completed and distributed 55 so far, but there have been plenty of failures, too.

But technical difficulties have proved to be only temporary detours as he continues his daily quest to produce more shields. The need has grown, nationally and locally. Monmouth, his hometown, briefly became a coronavirus hot spot. A local meat-processing facility was the site of an outbreak. Despite its small size and remote location, Warren County had one of the highest infection rates in Illinois for a short time in early May.

But in 3D printing, as in sports, perseverance pays off. And the satisfaction only deepens when things work out in the end. In this case, that means seeing his shields protecting the faces of health-care workers, knowing he’s created something that improves safety and can truly save lives.

“I know all the time and struggle that went into it,” he said.

David Simmons, a 13-year-old from of Monmouth, Illinois, uses the 3D printer he and his brothers had bought for home projects to make plastic face shields for healthcare workers. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST