UCC team produces face shields for ER physicians

“I have a little factory in my apartment,” says Erica Charbonneau, the Upper School’s Atkins Family Design Lab facilitator. “My kitchen table has been repurposed.”
Charbonneau and three of her design colleagues are busy producing face shields for emergency room physicians amid the COVID-19 pandemic using 3D printers and other materials from the Atkins lab and the Hixon Family Design Lab at the Prep. Contributing to the output are design teachers Ryan Archer (Upper School) and Tom Sharpe (Prep), and Prep design technician Hilary Julien. Executive Director of Information and Innovation Jim LaPlante distributes according to the directions of Dr. Amy Cheung, a physician whose two sons attend the Prep. 
 
Says Charbonneau, “During March Break, I began reading online posts from people who were innovating and making personal protective equipment (PPE). When campus was closed a week later, Jim sent me an email saying we should do the same. Since he was on board in terms of allocating staff time for this, all that was left to do was arrange to get into the school to retrieve some of the necessary equipment.”
 
Given the closure of facilities, it took some planning and permissions, but Charbonneau was able to get 3D printers, plastic and tools for herself and the others. Thanks to the generous donors who made both UCC’s design labs possible, printers and other materials are cutting-edge.
 
After bringing everything home, “I had to figure out how to ‘play Tetris’ and set it all up in my kitchen,” she says. “Luckily, these days, the machines are not as loud as they once were, so it has been manageable.”
 
Using a Health Canada-certified design, the GliaX Face Shield, Charbonneau put her printers to work 24/7. 
 
“I have a file that does two at a time and it takes a couple of hours, so I just need to restart the machines,” she says. “The printers are making the frames; I cut and attach the plastic manually and thread elastic through the frames. At school, we would use a laser cutter for the plastic, but it was too large and heavy to bring home.”
 
When she’s not cutting or attaching parts, Charbonneau is busy co-ordinating with her colleagues and sourcing materials. 
 
“The biggest challenge is sourcing plastic for the shields and obtaining elastic. We’ve run out of elastic, but we should get a shipment this week.”
 
Charbonneau can produce 10 masks each day, and, so far, 32 have been donated to emergency room physicians at three hospitals (Sunnybrook, Scarborough General and Etobicoke General), with more to come.
 
Because Dr. Cheung is arranging the donations personally, Charbonneau and her colleagues have received feedback from the physicians who wear the masks.
 
“It’s amazing for a designer to have real-time feedback from someone who is actually using a product,” Charbonneau says. “It’s a silver lining in this difficult time.”
 
If she were back at school, Charbonneau would be working with students in the Atkins lab or visiting classrooms to teach various design programs or procedures. 
 
“My job is very hands-on and being away from the lab has been a challenge, so this is a good project for me,” she says.
 
The medical community would undoubtedly concur.
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