CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard is taking an innovative approach to help alleviate the nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Tech. Sgt. Alan Pasel, an aircraft metals technology specialist assigned to the 130th Maintenance Squadron, is using the unit's recently purchased 3D printer to help meet the growing demand for PPE.
The printer was purchased using funding from the Air Force's innovation initiative. The program was developed by the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Innovation Office, which is encouraging innovative ideas from the field.
After receiving a mission to develop an effective face shield, Pasel searched the internet for design ideas, knowing that individuals have been creating and uploading designs for public use.
"I retrieved the initial design from an open-source site designed for people to share their designs for free," he said. "After I printed the one that I thought best fit our design needs, I worked with Tech. Sgt. Bryan Swift to make the plexiglass shield."
Swift is an aircraft structural maintenance craftsman assigned to the 130th Maintenance Group.
"I made the shield out of Lexan plastic," Swift said. "Then, we collaborated on how to modify the frame of the face shield to make it function better."
After finding that the design did not offer protection from all angles, they went back to the drawing board and completed a redesign.
"We discovered that the shield stuck out too far on the sides and didn't offer great protection from those angles," said Pasel. "I loaded the file in a program and began redesigning it to allow for a better fit with the shield."
After developing a working prototype, Pasel sent the design to a network of higher education institutions in the state that can mass-produce the halo for the face shield.
By next week, production is expected to ramp up from the 80 pieces already printed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently laid out guidelines for medical professionals, allowing them to use items such as bandanas in extreme shortages when dealing with patients. At the same time, President Trump has ordered General Motors to produce ventilators.
Pasel hopes his contributions help ease the PPE shortage in the area.
"Any impact that we can have to help our state and nation cope with this pandemic is worth every ounce of effort we put into it," said Pasel. "I am honored to be in a position where I can use the knowledge, skills and resources provided to me through my career in the National Guard to help our local community, our state and our nation."
"So far during this pandemic, my family and I have been affected just like most people," he said. "We've had to cancel birthdays and shuffle around our schedules to accommodate child care, my wife's graduate school obligations, and my upcoming deployment. But, despite everything that is going on, we're doing well and I'm just happy that we're doing our part to mitigate this virus."