CSE student producing face shields, helping community using 3D printer

Jun 16, 2020      By Victoria Grdina

The Erickson family.
The Erickson family.

One CSE student has been spending his summer using his computing skills and technology experience to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jimmy Erickson, a junior computer science major, has been producing face shields at home with his family using six 3D printers. He and his family have been distributing the shields to local medical professionals and organizations experiencing supply shortages throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area.

“The obvious shortages are in hospitals. However, nursing homes have a major shortage, as well as smaller practices that are just starting to open up like dentists, pediatricians, and optometrists outside of the general shortage,” Erickson said. “These places are also not given priority on the supply that is available, which has led to some already closing because of the business impact.”

Erickson, his brother, Andrew, and his parents began the project shortly after they returned home to Minnesota midway through their college semesters. Andrew has been 3D modeling and printing since high school and owns two printers. After their mother, Karen, read an article about others printing shields, the family decided to borrow three more from a local high school and a family friend to start producing their own. 

Erickson built a webpage to share information about the cause, and was able to spread awareness and identify organizations in need through social media and the word of mouth of family and friends. Each member of the family (which also includes Erickson’s father, Kurt) spends about 30 minutes a day printing and packaging shields, which are then distributed to medical professionals in need throughout the local area. 

As of June, the Erickson family has produced and donated more than 2,750 shields to more than 20 organizations, all of which have been delivered by the Erickson family and their friends. Each mask costs between $0.80 and $1.20 to make, which includes the cost of the 3D filament for the visor and the shield. The visor part of the shield takes about one hour and 20 minutes to print. The family has been able to earn donations for their supplies, including a $500 grant from the Walter Spohn Trust in California. They've also received material donations to create 5,000 more shields from Seagate, where Kurt is currently employed, along with printing, packaging, and delivery assistance from three other employees.

While Erickson and his family don’t have plans to expand their operation, he said they do intend to continue producing masks as long as there is a need for them. They hope to make at least 5,000 more masks at a faster speed.

“The demand for shields in the Twin Cities will last through the summer and most likely to the end of this pandemic,” Erickson said. “We don’t really have plans to stop anytime soon since there is still a need and we keep learning of more places that need these shields.” 

Erickson said while he’s been surprised by the demand, he’s also been impressed by his community’s willingness to help others in a time of need.

“It’s really shocking that our professional medical facilities, even Mayo Clinic, have to rely on donations from outside of their normal supply chain,” Erickson said. “But the amount of people who want to help on this project and are doing similar projects is really inspiring.”