Okotoks teen 3D prints dozens of face shields for health-care workers amid COVID-19 outbreak

When his family bought a 3D printer for Christmas two years ago, a 13-year-old in Okotoks, Alta., never thought that he would end up using it to help to fight a global pandemic.

But that’s exactly how Owen Plumb is putting his passion for 3D printing to use from his home in Okotoks, about 20 kilometres south of Calgary.

The Grade 9 student has assembled dozens of plastic face shields to protect local health-care workers, with help from his parents, Kevin and Nadia Plumb, and younger sister, Abigail, 11.

“It’s really great waking up every morning and seeing a print just finished completing overnight and being able to start another one and knowing I’m actually doing something to help instead of just staying home. It’s a really good feeling,” Plumb said. 

He’s not the only one using 3D printing to try to help health-care workers facing a shortage of personal protective equipment or PPE these days, but he might among the youngest.

He’s following a design released by Prusa, the company that manufactured their printer. The company did so to encourage the public to produce and distribute the protective equipment to health-care workers across the world.

While health authorities have yet to sign off on the use of 3D printed face shields like these for front-line heath-care workers, Prusa has been working to demonstrate that they’re safe, effective and meet mandatory regulatory standards in Canada. Meanwhile, the Plumbs and others making them are stockpiling them in hopes they’ll be approved soon.

It’s really great waking up every morning … knowing I’m actually doing something to help instead of just staying home.– Owen Plumb, 13.

After each face shield is printed, Plumb says it takes about two minutes to assemble them. 

The shields are made with a 3D-printed frame and headband, and a visor cut from a sheet of clear plastic.

They are designed to protect from droplets spread by coughing or sneezing, and fit most head sizes.

So far he has printed 106 and assembled more than 75.

Plumb says he’s motivated in part because his grandmother works in health care and his mother has a chronic lung condition. 

His mother, Nadia Plumb, said it’s pretty mind-blowing to see what her son has accomplished but as a mechanical engineer herself, she’s fascinated by the technology and proud of her son.

“It would be very hard for my son or any 13-year-old to just be told stay home and do your learning and try not to read the news too much, that’s just impossible. At least this way, he has something concrete that he can do that contributes and helps people we know.”

Owen Plumb makes the protective face shields using his family’s 3D printer at their Okotoks, Alta., home. (Submitted by Nadia Plumb)

His parents have set up a Facebook group called Face Shields for Foothills, AB. It currently has more than 200 members. 

The Okotoks Rotary Club has donated money for the materials and offered to help the Plumbs deliver the shield to health-care workers in the Okotoks area.

Each shield uses 40 grams of plastic filament. 

The Plumbs have heard from other groups also using the Prusa design on their 3D printers — some in and around Okotoks and others based in Calgary, like Shield Makers YYC, also on Facebook.

“Usually [the printers are] used for prototyping or making little widgets or figurines for, but now it can be applied to something really helpful and useful and local,” Nadia Plumb said.

However, of all the people stepping up to print out PPE, there may not be that many 13-year-olds doing it. 

Owen Plumb poses alongside the face shields he’s made to help health-care workers in their fight against COVID-19. (Submitted by Nadia Plumb)

“There’s so many different ways of helping … from sending care packages to care homes to sewing face masks, there’s a lot that you can do to help others than just self-isolating — which is still one of the best things you can do — but there is more that we can do as a community to help as young people,” Owen Plumb said.

Plumb said he will definitely put this on a resume in the future but the experience has also taught him a valuable life lesson.

“This is going to be something I’ll always remember. It’s really taught me what a community can do when we bond together to fight a crisis.”

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