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May/June 2020

Practical PR: D214, Harper, and Community Collaborate to Produce PPE

By Dave Beery

You can describe it any way you want.

That uncertain times yield uncommon innovation. That breakthroughs occur when need triggers inspiration. That a common threat brings out the best in our ability and incentive to collaborate and cooperate.

All of these, and more, apply to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has Americans searching overtime for ways large and small to navigate these unprecedented times and emerge on the other side of the outbreak as safely as possible.

These factors have brought High School District 214, Harper College, local public safety officials, a state legislator, and Elk Grove-based Total Plastics together to contribute: the production of much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE).

The idea originated with District 214 Board President Dan Petro. Hearing widespread reports of PPE shortages, Petro thought of the schools’ technology and innovation labs, especially those equipped with 3D printers. What kind of equipment, Petro wondered, might the district be able to manufacture that would help answer the dire PPE need?

Petro shared his thoughts with District 214 Superintendent David Schuler, who solicited the leadership of Wheeling High School Principal Jerry Cook and Buffalo Grove High School Principal Jeff Wardle. Both schools have long offered robust engineering, technology, and manufacturing programs, all of which were recently boosted by the opening of the Saul Ploplys Automation and Technology Lab at Buffalo Grove High School.

In short order, Wardle and Cook, in conversation with Buffalo Grove Fire Chief Mike Baker, Buffalo Grove Village Manager Dane Bragg, Harper College Makerspace Manager Jeff Moy, and several D214 teachers, identified a piece of gear that could be produced: a full-face protective shield.

This protective gear will be utilized by hospital personnel in some instances and by volunteers assisting public safety professionals. They will provide protection, for instance, by those working in food pantries or drive-up testing. All of this will help preserve and stretch the scarce supply of higher-grade, higher-spec shields needed by front-line medical and first responder professionals during the COVID-19 outbreak. Several Northwest suburban municipalities have already expressed interest in receiving shipments of these shields.

With this in mind, everybody got down to work. Cook, Wardle, and Moy studied prototypes, consulted with Chief Baker and even enlisted the help of their sheltering-at-home staff to test several options for sturdiness, durability, and comfort. Schuler networked with his connections for possible suppliers of materials. 

It was determined that Moy and his team at Harper will provide the laser-cut plastic face shield, while District 214’s team will produce the 3D printed headband. The design is based on one from Prusa Research in the Czech Republic and is being adopted by many organizations around the world. 

Together, the team has refined the foundational design. Moy redesigned the visor to improve some design aspects and enhance material utilization. Several District 214 teachers, Michael Geist, Kyle Pichik, Phil Tschammer, Eric Race, and Tom Steinbach, volunteered their time during spring break. They tested the district’s 3D printers, worked on programming and production protocols, and identified one printer type that proved best suited for the work. Using that printer, the teachers tested the beta model, along with the face shields from Harper.

Project managers found that some of the supplies needed for the work are difficult to find. State Sen. Ann Gillespie, 27th District, was instrumental in helping acquire additional 3D printers and supplies. Total Plastics manager Jeff Zonsius agreed to help provide some hard-to-find clear plastic for the project.
Regarding the teamwork and collaboration, Cook said, “It’s been amazing to see so many people come together selflessly to see this project come to fruition. Local industry partners Swiss Precision Machining and Avenues to Independence, both located in Wheeling, have donated boxes to help with the packing of these PPE devices. It’s been a total collaborative effort to help meet a need.”

Gillespie added, “By producing the personal protection equipment that those working on the front lines currently lack, District 214 and Harper College are stepping up and saving lives. Their proactive efforts show how dedicated our community is to ending this crisis and why career and technical education is so important. I couldn't be more proud of their teams."

The organizers are on track to produce 100 or more shields per day and 3,000 in the next three weeks, with an eventual goal of producing 5,000.

Moy said, “I'm proud that Harper College can contribute to such an important mission. It’s remarkable how passionate everyone is and how quickly we mobilized to find innovative solutions to help protect the people who are working on the front lines in our community.”
Wardle added, “I just can’t say enough about our staff here in D214, taking their personal time on Spring Break to throw themselves into this process. Many of them live in the D214 attendance area, and wanted to give back to their community. I am so proud of them, and honored to be part of this team.” 
 
Dave Beery is Interim Communications Supervisor for THSD 214, based in Arlington Heights. He and colleague Mark Ciske built a microsite for the PPE project.