Employees turn to 3D printers to make gear for nurses, doctors

May 11, 2020

Two Minnesota Power employees have put their home 3D printers to work making face protection for health care workers in Duluth.

Tim Salmonson, engineer II, and Chris Ifland, electronics technician, are making face shields and face mask straps, also known as “ear-savers,” for Essentia Health in Duluth. Salmonson recently delivered more than 100 shields to Essentia, bringing the total to 276 so far.

“I am doing this because it’s what I can do. I don’t know how to sew (cloth masks), but I have a resource (my 3D printer) that is suited for making these shields,” Salmonson said.

Brian Zuck, supply chain vice president at Essentia, said Salmonson and Ifland’s contributions are appreciated.

“We are so grateful for these face shields, which further protect our dedicated colleagues battling this pandemic from the frontline,” Zuck said. “These shields add to our precious supply of personal protective equipment, which is so crucial when dealing with this virus. The generosity of our communities continues to humble and encourage us.”

Salmonson and Ifland began making the personal protective equipment independently of each other more than a month ago—Salmonson printing face shields and Ifland printing ear-savers—before joining forces to make the shields. Ifland’s wife is a nurse in the surgical ICU at Essentia and Salmonson has many family members and friends in health care and they both wanted to do what they could to support them. And leave it to Facebook to help Salmonson and Ifland connect and the internet to supply technical help.

“I came across a Facebook post about someone with a 3D printer printing surgical mask straps to help keep the mask from biting into your ears after a 12-hour shift,” Ifland said. “I thought, ‘hey, I could do that to help my wife and anyone else at the hospital with this issue.’ The 3D printing community is very helpful and largely open source (free sharing) so I hopped online and found the file for the mask strap used on the post. I have only had my printer since January, so I’m still learning as we go, but I loaded the file and started printing mask straps. I had probably done a few hundred when I came across another Facebook post about Tim making face shields.”

While Ifland was making mask straps, Salmonson was using his 3D printer to create plastic frames for face shields and using plastic binding covers available at office supply stores for the actual shields.

“The process takes me about two hours to print one frame for the shield and another five minutes to assemble a completed shield,” Salmonson said. “The plastic shield is attached to the frame by having holes punched into it with a three-hole punch. I have my 3D printer running nearly 24 hours a day producing between 10 and 12 frames daily.”

After seeing a Facebook post of Salmonson’s, Ifland offered to help print the frames so Salmonson could churn out more shields. Ifland prints a batch of frames and drops them off at Salmonson’s house for assembly. Donations from Facebook friends and others have helped cover the cost of materials.

“It’s great to see people stepping up and doing everything they can to help those on the front lines,” Ifland said. “I just want to make sure my wife and all hospital workers come home safe and healthy at the end of the day.”