5/22/2020 | 2 MINUTE READ

Leader of New Jersey PPE 3D Printing Effort Tells Volunteers, “Stop Completely”

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“PPE Made in the USA” delivers 5,000 3D printed face shields produced and distributed by 50 volunteers. As emergency passes, a high school STEM teacher’s response to the COVID-19 crisis reaches its conclusion.

A recent view inside Hofmann’s basement. Around the U.S., volunteer makers have used 3D printing to fill the shortfall of needed PPE for healthcare workers. Hofmann’s ending his group’s efforts is symbolic of this response to the coronavirus heading toward a conclusion, and the COVID-19 period entering a different phase. Photos courtesy of James Hofmann.

This week, Newton, New Jersey, public high school STEM teacher James Hofmann sent an email to his team of volunteers who have been 3D printing, assembling and delivering components of personal-protective face shields since March. His message: “Stop completely.”

His group, PPE Made in the USA (which we first became aware of through our week by week reporting of the COVID-19 response), consists of around 50 volunteers, he says, “each with at least one 3D printer going, many with two to three,” all working to make face shields for healthcare workers. While printing made visors for the face shields, photonics products manufacturer Thorlabs and the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Partnership provided clear PETG sheet to be cut into face covers by sign maker Gravity Design. A local building products distributor, Kuiken Brothers, provided for delivery.

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All of this is what grew from the effort Hofmann began with just three 3D printers — two he had access to at the high school where he works, plus one of his own — in response to a March 2020 plea from a friend, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School student Rohan Sawhney, about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for caregivers facing the coronavirus crisis.

James Hofmann (right) with Rutgers New Jersey Medical School student Rohan Sawhney. “Tomorrow, I intend to bring the two MakerBots back into the STEM Lab at Newton High School,” Hofmann wrote.

Hospitals in northern New Jersey were the first beneficiaries of his group’s work. Demand declined there, shifting to long term care facilities. Now, demand for emergency PPE has declined in those facilities as well. On the cusp of delivering its 5,000th 3D printed face shield, the work of this group seems done, as hospitalizations for the virus decline in Hofmann’s area and caregiver institutions are able to turn again to conventional manufacturers of PPE to meet their needs going forward.

“You know it’s time to call it quits when multiple hospitals and nursing homes begin sending you forms to complete in the event you want recognition or paperwork to request a donation letter from them more formally,” he said in his email. “Things must be improving if they can dedicate staff to work on these types of forms and correspondence.”

The 3D printers that have been busy for weeks are quiet now, he says. In perhaps the most telling sign that things are beginning to return to normal, he says, “Tomorrow, I intend to bring the two Makerbots back into the STEM Lab at Newton High School.”

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