EOD and MXS protects Spangdahlem from COVID-19 through 3-D printed face shields

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Branden Rae
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

As the world is dealing with COVID-19, Spangdahlem Air Base is being proactive in coping with the virus. One way Spangdahlem AB is adapting is by using 3-D printers to make face shield frames.

“A face shield is a plastic barrier above a face mask which helps protect the eyes and face of the wearer from droplets of fluid from a patient,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Preston Laslie, 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander.

Personal protection equipment includes gloves and face shields for front-line responders to guard against contracting the virus themselves.

“Face shields are needed for anyone’s job who may come into contact with infected individuals,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Umlauf, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal craftsman. “We think this is a usable product for medical personnel, emergency responders (such as Security Forces entry controllers, or fire department personnel), and other people who may come in contact with individuals suspected of having COVID-19.”

There are many individuals who would be required to wear PPE and Spangdahlem AB wants to be prepared to issue face shields to those personnel.

“The timeline for our need to mass produce the face shields for medical use is dependent on the utilization of our existing supply levels,” said Laslie. “While our supply of PPE is sufficient at this time, having the mechanism of production at our disposal locally protects our ability to quickly adapt if our current supplies or the supply chain becomes diminished.”

Having the capabilities to print these face shield frames locally makes it possible for more than just the medical group to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

“The EOD flight has designed and produced the current prototyped models,” said Umlauf. “We are also collaborating with the Maintenance Squadron to share design information and potentially expand capabilities to simultaneously produce a larger volume of face shields. Also, we have collaborated with other U.S. Air Forces in Europe EOD units to share lessons learned and design information.”

These 3-D printers are usually used to help progress the wing’s mission; EOD prints the shells of explosive devices for training and the MXS uses theirs for various maintenance parts.

Locally producing face shields will help if there is a supply shortage and could save the U.S. Air Force money.  

“A single face shield, fully assembled, was calculated to cost $1.67, as contrasted to a commercially produced shield averaging $7” said Umlauf. “A single face shield can be produced in approximately 30 minutes.”

By understanding the production capabilities for the 3-D printing of face shields, Spangdahlem AB is ready in case the Health Protection Condition escalates.

For the second year in a row, Spangdahlem AB won the Air Force’s Spark Tank competition highlighting the innovative spirit here. 3-D printed face shields are just the latest example of Spangdahlem Airmen’s creativity.

“Saber Nation is known for its innovation, and that spirit is what drove this endeavor,” said Laslie. “We see an opportunity to take advantage of our existing resources and repurpose it towards the protection of our most vital resource, our Airmen. The Mission Support, Maintenance and Medical Groups worked together to determine where the 3-D printing technology could be best put to use.”

Having a contingency plan assists Spangdahlem AB to make equipment with the proper skills as the situation requires.

“As with all EOD skillsets, we have a capability that we hope to never use,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Barrish, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal craftsman. “We have, however, proven the capability and dialed-in production lead times. If this COVID-19 situation takes an even more drastic turn for the worse or supply channels slow down, we are ready.”

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