Sam Knight poses at his Richmond home Tuesday where 3D printers are making face shield holders as part of an REM Delta Prime Robotics team project. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

RICHMOND — High school student Claire McBride, 16, spent more than a hundred hours preparing for this year’s robotics competition with her Delta Prime Robotics teammates. Three days before the first competition, the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sam Knight pops another face shield holder out of the 3D printer Tuesday at his home in Richmond. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

After that, the group quickly recalibrated and began looking for ways to help medical workers. Now, the group has been churning out hundreds of 3D-printed face shields for Maine’s medical workers, earning a mention during Monday’s press briefing from Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control.

“It’s really great to know that we’re making a difference,” McBride said Monday. “It’s really awesome.”

Shah lauded the group’s efforts during his Monday press briefing, saying that the group is producing more than 100 masks a day and has donated 1,200 masks to be distributed across the state.

“It’s nothing short of inspiring,” he said, “and on behalf of the entire emergency preparedness team, as well all the healthcare workers across the state, we very much thank you.”

Delta Prime Robotics is made up of high-school students from the Hallowell-area Regional School Unit 2, but is operated by a nonprofit separate from the district, according to mentor Sam Knight.

He said the project spawned from an increase in popularity of at-home 3D printing.  Knight said members of the robotics team were looking for ways to help medical workers, and initially printed “ear savers,” a specially-designed piece of plastic that holds surgical masks behind the head to reduce strain on the ears. After trying a number of designs, the group began making transparent face shields.

As the need for protective equipment grew, the group saw a need to scale up their product, and launched a crowd-funding campaign April 27 looking to raise $2,500. By Wednesday afternoon, that fundraiser had reached $2,649 from 42 donors.

Knight said the financial support has enabled a bulk purchase of filament — the material used in 3D printers — and transparency sheets normally used on overhead projectors.

A 3D printer puts down another layer of filament Tuesday while creating a face shield at Sam Knight’s home in Richmond. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Dozens of face shields made by the REM Delta Prime Robotics project are seen Tuesday at Sam Knight’s home in Richmond. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The shields, which are based on a design from the National Institute of Health, have two components: A clear shield and 3D-printed strap. McBride said the strap’s design file is loaded into the 3D printer, where filament heats up and the plastic is extruded precisely into the shape of the strap. After loose bits of filament are filed off, a transparency sheet is altered and affixed into the strap.

Knight said each of the group’s dozen printers can produce two straps every 50 minutes, taking into account warm-up and cool-down times.

Shah said the Delta Prime masks are distributed the same as any other face shields would be, meaning the group’s masks could be included in any shipments sent across the state.

“I want you to know that each and every one of these face shields are being used,” he said.

Knight said he was proud of the students work on the shields, especially after the disappointment of their competitive season being canceled before they could compete with their robot.

“This is an amazing group of kids and it’s my absolutely honor to work with these kids on a daily basis,” he said.

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