Editor’s Corner: 3D Printers Rally To Help Stem COVID-19: Your Help Is Needed

COVID19, aka Coronavirus, is taking its toll on all of us, in a variety of ways. So as I kick off an Editors Corner post here on AM News, I want to use it to update you on positive news all across the Additive Manufacturing and Materials Science communities. 

People are coming together to 3D print, to sew (yes, handmade cloth DIY masks – more on this below, hang on), and explore and test materials for the certified N95 respirators and surgical masks. Plus, I will share a couple of stories from within our community of two educators working tirelessly to 3D print face shield parts for use by those on the front lines. 

At Tennessee Tech University, Dr. Ismail Fidan and team have turned the university makerspace, STEM Center, and department labs into 24/7 3D print shops for COVID-19 protective face shield parts. The University also has a very well-established Additive Manufacturing Coalition and Hub established with an NSF award. Their network is also supporting the university’s efforts.

So far, they have printed 381 masks (as of March 25) that went to the state directly for final assembly and distribution to healthcare professionals. The TTU Department of Manufacturing and Engineering Technology and College of Engineering are running 30-plus 3D printers across the two labs. (Short video with them loading up a box of parts.). The Tennessee Tech team plans to keep printing since there are still more production requests and needs from the state.

University of Louisville runs one of the top Additive Manufacturing programs and has an amazing 3D printing facility for training and workforce development. I spent time there a few years back visiting Ed Tackett who runs it when I happened to be driving across the country (not 3DRV, another time). You can read more about their COVID-19 efforts here: Students Producing 3D Printed Face Shields For Healthcare Professionals. Ed is helping nationwide with people trying to sort out how to print at the highest possible quality and speed. 

UofL AMIST 3D Printing Face Shield Parts
Graduate assistant and student Kate Schneidau oversees the 3D printing of face shields for local health care professionals in response to the shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Image Courtesy of University of Louisville.

Normally, I do not cross-link (although there’s nothing wrong with doing it) between my work at Forbes and my National Science Foundation grant project work, but we are in uncharted waters and all the resources we can share with one another, well, it may save a life. If you have a project you are working on related to COVID-19, please get in touch and we will consider adding it here. 

If you are looking for a way to get you or your students involved (great remote, work-from-home, learn-from-home potential), I encourage you to look over the different resources in these Forbes posts — there are many hands-on opportunities: 

As I explained in Forbes, “I had, like many of you, planned to attend the RAPID + TCT event in Anaheim this year. SME, the parent organization that creates the RAPID + TCT event, wisely postponed the event. I have attended several of the RAPID + TCT events and it is always amazing to connect with the community; it is more like a large family reunion, frankly…” But now, thanks to what SME has built, those same people are still coming together to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges.

If you ever wondered if 3D printing is all it claims to be, Coronavirus has helped settle that. 3D printers do all of this and more.”

Let’s close with two final examples of people coming together: 

    • MatterHackers, the largest distributor of desktop digital manufacturing equipment and materials in the USA, created an initiative called the COVID-19 Additive Manufacturing Community Response Hub and it will “connect those in the U.S. who need medical aid (Hospitals and Govt. Agencies) and those who can create it using Digital Manufacturing.” It has been live for three days and hundreds have signed up.
    • The N95 respirator mask is a one-time use item. But healthcare professionals are being asked, all around the world, to keep using the same mask repeatedly. Stanford University has helped answer the question pulling in materials scientists: Can Facial Masks be Disinfected for Re-use? Amy Price, DPhil (Oxon) and Larry Chu, MD on behalf of the Stanford AIM Lab and Learnly COVID-19 Evidence Service Stanford Anesthesia Informatics and Media Lab found that it is possible. See their PDF (linked in the title above) if you are involved in any efforts to help healthcare professionals get access to N95 masks. Hint: 70°C hot air in oven, 30min (not a home oven, to be clear!). Read the PDF with loads of technical details.
Stanford N95 Reuse Studies
Stanford N95 Reuse Studies

Although we are living in challenging times, educators and researchers in the USA and internationally are working incredibly long hours to help and save others. Many of the TEAMM network members are working round the clock to provide much-needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by 3D printing face shields based on an open source design using PETG filament material on a wide range of 3D printers.

Coronavirus may look like it is winning, but based on these stories and dedicated people, there is hope that it will soon be defeated.

Tennessee Tech College of Engineering Team Wins Leighton E. Sissom Innovation and Creativity Award

Tennessee Tech College of Engineering professor, Dr. Ismail Fidan, and his team were awarded the 2020 Leighton E. Sissom Innovation and Creativity Award for their work on the Golden Eagle Additively Innovative Virtual Lecture Series.

Left to right for picture (award night): College of Engineering Dean Joseph Slater, Dr. Terry Guo, Michelle Davis, Dr. Ismail Fidan

AM News has covered these events each time over the past few years and each one provides insights and knowledge from additive manufacturing experts from around the world.

Leading authorities such as Wohlers Associates Inc. (in which Dr. Fidan is one of their associate consultants) state that AM is a breakthrough technology that represents the fourth industrial revolution. It is seen as a transformative advancement because it enables distributed manufacturing and the production of parts on demand while also reducing cost, energy consumption and carbon footprints. Since many do not know about these advances, including students and faculty at other institutions, this semester-long series provides an essential look into what is coming in manufacturing technologies.

The team received a $2500 cash award and an award plaque on Thursday, February 20, 2020 at the College of Engineering Awards Banquet. As the coordinator, Dr. Fidan finds speakers for each event and organizes the flyer and schedule. It should be noted that he has won this award three times (see below), helping to keep innovation in everyone’s mind. Dr. Terry Guo serves as the IT person arranging the online video platform, Zoom, is working properly for all speakers. He also records the speaker presentations so that people can listen later, if desired. Michelle Davis does the introductions and web publishing.

      • 2004: Establishing a Rapid Prototyping Laboratory with NSF funds for Tennessee Tech
      • 2013: Establishing a Remotely Accessible Additive Manufacturing Laboratory for Higher Education Students at Tennessee Tech University, Tennessee Board of Regents School Students and other students in the nation for their classroom needs.
      • 2020: Establishing and Operating the Additively Innovative Virtual Lecture Series for the last 9 semesters. Educating 1,000-plus people on the latest trends and technologies in Additive Manufacturing with talks from prestigious speakers around the world. You can see the latest flyer here or the full archive here.

The Lecture Series is partially funded by NSF Award – 1601587

SCC Metal 3D Prints Stainless Steel Parts With Modified $600 Desktop Printers

The additive manufacturing program at Somerset Community College (SCC) recently 3D printed numerous 316L stainless steel metal parts on multiple low cost desktop 3D printers. Metal 3D printing is typically an expensive process requiring metal 3D printers starting in the low six figures. SCC has created an impressive initiative to bring the cost down – way down.

SCC’s process is based on a relatively well-known method known as “Bound Metal Additive Manufacturing” (BMAM). It is also predicted by researchers to be one of the fastest growing methods of additive production over the next several years. The SCC AM program faculty and staff started with several low-cost or fused filament fabrication (FFF) (sometimes known as fused deposition modeling – however, FDM is a trademarked term) 3D printers, typically less than $450 each, then modified them for metal filament extrusion and better build plate adhesion for an additional $150 each (total price tag of $600 per printer). 

Once you print a part on one of the SCC machines, there are still multiple steps to completion. The team started with metal-infused filaments provided by Virtual Foundry and BASF. After accounting for shrinkage and other production issues in the design phase, the parts were 3D printed. SCC worked with sintering experts such as DSH Technologies to debind and sinter the 3D printed parts. Imagine that part is “green” and must be cured, similar to what you might do with a piece of pottery in a kiln (oversimplified, but you get the idea). Below, we link to a few additional resources from Virtual Foundry, BASF, and MatterHackers (a provider of filament).

With the material hardened into something closer to its finished metal state, the team had SCC’s Welding department work on the parts. Senior Welding Professor, Karl Watson, used Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), also known as TIG welding. Several fillet and groove welds were applied to the original six pieces and the welding went very well.

Preliminary testing of the parts has also shown hardness values slightly less than stock 316L (stainless steel), but microscopic inspection after finishing work has not shown any inconsistencies thus far. Watson also noted that the heat dissipation during the welding process of the 3D printed stainless was higher than conventional stock stainless.

From this success, SCC’s goal now is to bring this low cost metal 3D printing technology to students, teachers, and the workforce throughout Kentucky. SCC will be providing training workshops across the state in the assembly and set up of low cost metal 3D printers for select educators in Kentucky high schools and community colleges. This work is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and EPSCoR (or Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) grants. 

Over the next few months SCC will be dialing in the equipment and their training process for the low cost metal procedures, as well as collecting data on product performance. Eric Wooldridge, Director of SCC’s Additive Manufacturing program, notes that “there is a lot for us to learn about practical welding of 3D printed metal parts, especially parts that have been produced on a desktop 3D printer. Factors of shrinkage, potential zones of weakness, and the best welding practices are still to be determined. These are very exciting but uncharted waters to be sure.” 

SCC will be working with partners across Kentucky, including the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, to integrate skills in low cost BMAM into the workforce. SCC will also be working with Tennessee Technological University (TTU) to scale their work across state lines through the support of the Mobile Additive Manufacturing Platform for 21st Century STEM Workforce Enhancement grant from the NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. 

SCC currently offers a certificate in Additive Manufacturing/3D printing and offers additional training through the college’s Workforce Solutions program. For more information, please visit SCC’s Additive Manufacturing program, or check out their YouTube channel, The Additive Guru, dedicated to 3D printing.

Additional Resources:

      • Virtual Foundry – makers of the sintering furnace
      • BASF – makers of the metal filament mentioned above
      • MatterHackers – a provider of filament and reseller of 3D printing machines and equipment. This link goes to a YouTube video overviewing the metal filament from BASF.

Golden Eagle Additively Innovative Lecture Series Spring 2020

The College of Engineering at Tennessee Tech is organizing its ninth Golden Eagle Additively Innovative Lecture Series for Spring 2020. Under Dr. Ismail Fidan’s leadership, he and his team coordinate with top-notch speakers from around the world. A combination of experts from academia and industry are recruited to share cutting edge knowledge with university students and anyone who simply has a desire to keep learning about additive manufacturing. 

The web-based presentations are shared via the free Zoom platform. On the dates listed, simply visit Zoom URL ( tntech.zoom.us/j/432789883 ) at 11am Central Standard Time and you can listen in to the 30-minute lecture/discussion. Mark your calendars for one or all of these excellent presentations.


Thursday, February 6

New functionalities for metal AM by embedded intelligence

With Puukko Pasi, Research Team Leader, Advanced Manufacturing Technologies VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., Espoo, Finland


Thursday, March 5

Integrated statistical/experimental methodologies for rapid and cost-effective optimization of process parameters in additive manufacturing

With Ehsan Toyserkani, Ph.D., Professor and Canada Research Chair in Additive Manufacturing, Director of Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab, Director of Pan-Canadian NSERC/CFI Strategic Network for Holistic Innovation in Additive Manufacturing (HI-AM), Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, University of Waterloo, Canada


Thursday, March 26

A holistic approach to achieving the best possible component quality for AM architectures for vat photopolymer and laser powder bed fusion systems

With David Bue Pedersen, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark


Thursday, April 9

Additive Manufacture with High Temperature Polymers

With Oana Ghita, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of Materials Science and Manufacturing in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Academic Lead of Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing (CALM), University of Exeter, United Kingdom


Thursday, April 23

From 3D Printing to Digital Manufacturing

With Wenchao Zhou, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Arkansas


The Golden Eagle Additively Innovative Virtual Lecture Series is partially funded by the NSF Award 1601587, “AM-WATCH: Additive Manufacturing-Workforce Advancement Training Coalition and Hub”. The archive of past Golden Eagle Additively Innovative Virtual Lectures is found here.

Multi-Institutional Collaboration in Additive Manufacturing

Collaboration is a terrific way to learn and during the 2018 Fall semester, five students from two community colleges and one university worked together to share their design and additive manufacturing (AM) facilities and capabilities. Three students were from Tennessee Tech University, one from Sinclair Community College, and one from Somerset Community College.

NSF TTU Collaboration Bottle Opener Before After

The goal was to join forces to allow teams to leverage skills gained in different courses, improve design competencies, and have an opportunity to apply them in the lab. Before that, however, design files were evaluated and modifications suggested, when appropriate. One of the student teams studied technical drafting in one community college’s design course, while the other two institutions opened the doors of their AM labs so that students can take that design knowledge straight to a 3D printer.

Project Evaluation: Students’ Perspectives

When asked about the part of the project that they enjoyed the most, the students stated the following:

      • 3D printing in different machines and materials
      • I helped and recommended design changes to optimize the part, especially the bottle opener side. I recommended to reinforce the area with more stress concentration
      • The redevelopment of the opener was a great aspect because it showed me how a real product would work through the design process and how to change and fix problems
      • Testing to see what worked best
      • The design phase

The students indicated having learned invaluable lessons from the bottle cap opener project, to include the following:

      • Design is not about looks;
      • It is about functionality;
      • How to efficiently optimize the part with the help of CAD software;
      • The redevelopment stage of designing and how the first design will always change;
      • Iterative designs are great for improvement of the end product, and;
      • Ergonomic design techniques.

Using a simple bottle cap opener, students sought to see if they could improve it with design and 3D printing skills (image above of the before and after designs). In addition to the design and printing revisions that helped students achieve a functional finished product, students improved design skills, plus they gained other unique soft skills that will help them as they graduate and head into the workforce or further studies. According to the four professors involved (see list below), from an evaluative standpoint, overall, the project was a success. Both the faculty and students were satisfied with the process and product.

Using this innovative bottle cap opener (image above of the before and after designs), design and 3D printing skills were increased for students and faculty members in this practice. In addition to the design and printing revisions that helped students achieve a functional finished product, students gained other unique soft skills that will help them as they graduate and head into the workforce or further studies. According to the four professors involved (see list below), from an evaluative standpoint, overall, the project was a success. Both the faculty and students were satisfied with the process and product.

      • Dr. Ismail Fidan, Tennessee Tech University
      • Dr. George Chitiyo, Tennessee Tech University
      • Mr. Eric Newland Wooldridge, Somerset Community College
      • Mr. Thomas Singer, Sinclair Community College

The project team also filed a provisional patent application on the Universal Bottle Opener created and designed as part of this collaboration (which we highlighted here on AM News). In addition, the paper provides a terrific case study on the design progression and step by step iterations of the bottle opener. You can download the full ASEE paper for this multi-institution project, including student feedback and learning outcomes.

This project has been funded by NSF Award Number 1601587 entitled AM-WATCH: Additive Manufacturing Workforce Advancement Training Coalition and Hub.