Detroit design team uses 3D printers to create tho...

Detroit design team uses 3D printers to create thousands of face shields

John McGarry couldn’t abide the thought of frontline workers going without personal protective equipment, or PPE, as COVID-19 hospitalizations rose in metro Detroit, healthcare staff begged for masks and hospitals warned of shortages

Then he thought about the 3D printers sitting idle back at the office of the Detroit architecture firm where he works as a designer.

After reading about the possibility of printing face shields, McGarry woke up early on a Monday morning last month and called Clayton Wenrick, his colleague at Neumann/Smith Architecture, to float the idea. Wenrick had the same thought — in fact, he was already on the case, calling his contacts in the healthcare industry.

Clayton Wenrick is helping make face shields for health care workers.
Clayton Wenrick, designer at Neumann/Smith, is helping make face shields for healthcare workers. | Photo courtesy of Clayton Wenrick

Three weeks later, McGarry, Wenrick and another colleague, Trent Schmitz, have printed and delivered more than 2,000 face shields to Beaumont Hospitals, DMC Medical Group, Henry Ford Hospitals and the University of Michigan health system, as well as others who have reached out personally. 

Trent Schmitz is one of the designers working to make face shields.
Trent Schmitz is among the designers working daily to make face shields for healthcare workers who need them. | Photo courtesy of Trent Schmitz

The plastic shields are designed to fit over a person’s face and can be worn with a mask for an additional layer of protection from transmission of the coronavirus. The architects’ effort is one of many examples across the state of individuals — including kids — and smaller organizations making PPE materials for the first time to donate to hospitals.  

Face shield pieces being  made by Neumann/Smith Architecture
These face shield pieces are being made by employees of Neumann/Smith Architecture who are manufacturing face shields for healthcare workers. | Photo courtesy of John McGarry

The trio started with a design they found online and began doing what designers do best: tweaking and optimizing. The result, according to McGarry, is a shield that uses less material, takes less time to print, and is more durable than what they started with.

The cost to produce each face covering is down to a dollar, and the files are freely available to anyone who has a 3D printer and wants to help in the effort. 

Face shields can help keep health care workers safe during COVID-19.
Shields like this one can help keep health care workers safe during COVID-19. | Photo courtesy of John McGarry

The designers used their own funds to get started, with a boost from other Neumann/Smith families. Both McGarry and Schmitz are alums of Lawrence Technological University’s College of Architecture and Design; when Chris Stefani, associate director of LTU’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology, heard about their efforts though the grapevine, he immediately thought about the six printers he had sitting in storage, originally destined for a class taught by DCDT at Denby High School. He loaned them to McGarry. Other offers soon followed, and they now have 12 printers running.

McGarry said he is thrilled to be able to make a real difference.

“Seeing the pictures of the nurses and doctors wearing our equipment is really special,” he said. “We know we’re helping save lives.”

To help or donate to their effort, contact McGarry at jmcgarry@ltu.edu or fill out a form for a volunteer effort through AIA Detroit (American Institute of Architects’ local chapter). 

Top photo: John McGarry at work making face shields, courtesy of McGarry.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Chris Stefani’s name. It is Stefani, not Stefanski. The article also previously indicated Clayton Wenrick attended LTU; he attended the University of Michigan.

Nina Misuraca Ignaczak is a metro Detroit freelance journalist and publisher of the Planet Detroit Newsletter.