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Necessity, the mother of invention: Veterinarians print shields

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed the way most of us have had to think about and approach our work. Veterinarians at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine — who know their patients don’t always listen when it comes to physical distancing guidelines — designed a solution to keep team members, clients and pets safe.

When the novel coronavirus outbreak began progressing through China and Italy in February and March, Tatiana Motta, DVM, MS, realized that physical distancing and more intensive personal protective equipment (PPE) would be needed for employees at Ohio State’s Veterinary Medical Center.

But face shields are not a common piece of equipment in their work environment, and the Veterinary Medical Center did not have any in stock.

Motta, an associate professor of small animal orthopedic surgery, teamed up with Sean McCready, an instructional designer, to brainstorm different face shield options that could be produced on 3D printers in the college’s Clinical Skills Lab.

So far, 80 plastic face shields have been created — protecting employees and conserving PPE in the face of national shortages. 

“As the infection control officer of the VMC, I will always be grateful to Tatiana and Sean,” said Dubra Diaz-Campos, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of diagnostic and clinical microbiology in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.

The 3D printers were used to create educational prototypes such as canine leg bone replicas for students to use in surgical training workshops. CT scans from patients at the Veterinary Medical Center could be used to produce identical three-dimensional bone models. But now, all four 3D printers are dedicated to printing face shields. 

Faculty, staff and student workers are also sewing reusable cloth masks for staff to wear.

Making masks for the masses

Mass producing face shields is not the same as printing a few bone replicas. Time is of the essence and changes have to be made quickly. 

“When printing prototypes for teaching, we typically work on project improvements and redesign the final prototype as many times as needed, meaning it will take seven to 10 days for us to reach an approved final prototype,” Motta said. 

3D-printed face shields protect veterinary professionals during COVID-19.
Abby Culver, a small-animal veterinary assistant at The Ohio State University, uses a 3D-printed face shield while interacting with clients and patients to be better protected against the coronavirus.

“Now, we had to work really fast and jump into mass production in a couple of days. Some adjustments were being made while the production was already happening.” 

Each face shield takes about two to three hours to print. Once the visor part of the shield is printed, sharp corners need to be sanded down. Then elastic cloth bands are added and the transparent plastic sheet is attached to the visor head piece.

Unlike a cloth face mask, face shields work as a physical barrier to protect the whole face and prevent a person from touching their face. The combination of a cloth face mask and a reusable face shield increases the level of protection against COVID-19 for workers that must stay less than six feet apart. 

“No PPE is ever going to be comfortable to wear, but considering all the sources and possibilities, the face shields are one of the least disruptive ones,” Motta said.