Utilizing the technology and resources available on campus, Alfred State College is teaming up with local businesses to help fill the need for more face masks for healthcare workers and essential employees.
According to Kevin Tucker, instructional support associate in the Architecture and Design Department, the college began producing masks in the Digital Fabrication Lab in the Engineering Technology Building on April 7.
“We currently have four printers running the majority of the hours of the day, and our fifth large-scale printer that I try to keep running on a 24-hour cycle,” Tucker said. “I have been coming in on weekends, as well, to keep everything running.”
According to Tucker, the printers are producing masks of several various sizes for differently sized faces. This means the total number of masks made each day can range between 28 for large-sized masks and around 50 for child-sized masks.
The printers, Tucker said, use fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing, also known as fused deposition modeling (FDM). This allows the printer to take a strand of plastic filament and melt it down and build the model layer by layer.
“All of our prints are being made with polylactic acid (PLA) plastic filament, which is made from plant-based resources and is much easier to biodegrade than traditional plastics,” he said.
Once masks are created, they are sent to Benjamin Noble, owner of BCF (Brooklyn Casting and Fabrication) Industries in Arkport, which is making personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line health providers and other essential employees in various fields. Noble has networked with area hospitals, nursing homes, police and fire departments, and more to provide masks to their employees.
So far, Tucker has delivered more than 200 masks to Noble, whose company has been able to distribute more than 1,500 masks locally and around the country.
“Ben lets me know how many and what size we need and I print as many as possible,” Tucker said. “I deliver them to him and he finishes and delivers the masks.”
Noble said that while his company already had two 3D printers, he decided to order four more “with the hopes that we could produce masks fast enough to keep up with the problem.” After conducting some research, BCF Industries settled upon one type of mask that, with Tucker’s help, was able to be created in different sizes.
“We came out with a small-medium version, then we came out with an extra-large version, and then we came out with small ones for children with immune disorders,” Noble said. “Currently, we’re sending a large batch of those to cancer centers all over the US.”
As a company that typically handles welding projects, BCF Industries already possessed equipment necessary to produce face masks, which is why Noble said he felt a moral obligation to help out.
“We had the machinery, we had the knowledge, we had the ability to come up with a solution, and we couldn’t just sit back and potentially watch this thing unfold without making some sort of attempt at helping,” he said.
Another company that Alfred State has connected with is Saxon Glass Technologies Inc. Senior Hardware/Software Engineer Trevor Kokot, who graduated from Alfred State’s computer engineering technology program in 2019, said he has been producing surgical mask tension release bands and Montana Masks, which are 3D printable, highly effective filtration masks that can be fitted to the wearer’s face and sanitized between uses.
Alfred State, Kokot said, helped his efforts by putting him in contact with Benjamin Noble.
“Benjamin has been instrumental in getting the equipment that I printed to those in need by handling the packaging of the Montana Masks with straps and gasketing, logistics, and communication with those in need, and then finally the distribution,” Kokot said. “Without his help, I wouldn't have been able to focus on what I am good at, which is 3D printing. He also has helped greatly with the acquisition of plastic filament when I started to run out of my own supply.”
Kokot said he loves being able to make such a difference from his little office in Alfred.
“I've been in this area my entire life, so being able to give back to the community, to help those directly in need, and hopefully help save lives makes the long nights tending and repairing the 3D printers worth it,” Kokot said.
Like Noble and Kokot, Tucker is happy to do his part to help out during this time of need.
“While I may not be a front-line worker like doctors or nurses, I try to do what I can to help out in times like these,” Tucker said. “As someone with a compromised immune system from a kidney transplant almost three years ago, I have a unique understanding of the fear and anxiety that is going around. If I can do my part to lessen that in any way, I will do whatever I can to help.”