A Port Alberni businessman has been putting his 3-D printing hobby to use by making personal protective equipment (PPE) for local frontline workers.
Kevin Wright, the owner of House Medic Handyman Service in Port Alberni, has printed hundreds of face shields for West Coast General Hospital and nearby care homes since COVID-19 arrived on Vancouver Island in March.
Wright said he was contacted by a local nurse who was concerned about the need for PPEs at the hospital.
“She told me they had already started rationing here,” Wright said. “The procedures, the way they’re doing things has substantially changed because of COVID-19.”
Wright is not the only creator stepping up to help out during the pandemic. In the Cowichan Valley, a group called “Project Draw Breath” is using 3-D printers to create ventilator masks. Wright is also a member of a Facebook group called “Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies” that connects makers across the world with medically vetted, open-source plans to create and distribute protective gear and equipment.
“At least half [of the members] are 3-D printers from around the world,” explained Wright. “Medical professionals have been joining forces to help us understand the materials we should be using, processes we should be following.”
Wright partnered with Alberni-based company Houle Printing to provide the plastic covers for the shields, and the City of Port Alberni has stepped up to help by purchasing an extra 10 3-D printers and some additional filament at a cost of $3,400. The funding came out of the city’s ecnomic development budget. The printers will be used as “backup” to Wright’s five personal printers. If they are not needed, economic development manager Pat Deakin says the city will attempt to recoup the costs of the printers by selling them or will donate them to local schools.
“It appeared to us [at the city] that this might be an opportunity to address what seemed to be a profound need in the community,” explained Deakin.
“The city’s been very helpful,” Wright acknowledged.
After “lots of consultation” with local nurses and doctors, Wright delivered the first 100 face shields to West Coast General Hospital on Monday, March 30. He was immediately asked to make 200 more.
“They’re hoping to have one for each and every staff member,” said Wright. “Including pharmacy staff, cleaning staff.”
The Alberni Health Care Auxiliary (formerly the WCGH Auxiliary) donated $1,500 to cover the cost of making the masks for the hospital.
As of Monday, April 6, Wright has printed 550 face shields in total. Three hundred have gone to the hospital, 200 will be going to Fir Park and Echo Villages and an additional 50 will go towards pharmacies, medical labs, store clerks and taxis. Wright estimates that he has put in about 1,000 printer hours since mid-March.
“I’ve been printing all day every day,” said Wright. “It’s an hour and 30 minutes just to make the frame.”
Along with time, a major issue for Wright is the cost to make the face shields. Anyone interested in donating to this venture can reach out to Wright on Facebook or contact him by email: email@example.com.
Wright has also been experimenting with N95 masks.
“If they run out, we’ll be able to print some,” he said. “Right now, the No. 1 need is face shields. It provides that physical barrier, and a sense of defence.”
In the meantime, Wright says he is “having fun” making the face shields out of different colours, as opposed to the conventional blue or black.
“I’m trying to make them as cheerful as humanly possible,” he laughed.