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Engineers at UCLA have begun using 3D printing and laser cutting equipment to produce surgical face shields in an effort to meet the rapidly growing demand for personal protective equipment for health care workers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Five hundred shields have been distributed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and three other area hospitals, with another 500 set to be shipped Friday, according to UCLA bioengineering professor Jacob Schmidt.

The materials to develop each face shield cost under $1, and the shields are being distributed for free.

One hundred shields can be produced each day under at the UCLA Innovation Lab — the “makerspace” on the first and second floors of the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering’s Boelter Hall

However, the team is working on designs solely involving laser cutting that could increase the rate of production to more than 1,000 per day.

“Makerspaces are places where you can do prototyping and small-batch production very rapidly and inexpensively,” Schmidt said.

“These qualities are in high demand right now, as we are being forced to come up with improvised solutions to address the lack of traditional equipment and devices.”

The head frames for the face shields are made by 3D printers, and the shields are laser cut from sheets of clear plastic.

Some materials have been hard to find and others have long shipping times so close substitutes have been found for many of the materials, according to Schmidt.

The bioengineering professor teamed up with Doug Daniels, director of the Lux Labs at the UCLA Library, which offers 3D printing and other creative technologies.

The two are part of a larger team across the UCLA campus, along with industry partners who have been contacted to aid in the effort.

Personnel at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA have been called on to assemble the face shields.

Jayathi Murthy, the dean at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, said she was proud of the rapid response from the UCLA community during the public health crisis.

“As problem solvers at heart, we want to apply our knowledge to addressing the shortage of medical supplies at this critical moment,” she said. “This is our charge and the reason why we became engineers.”

Engineers are working closely with their colleagues at UCLA Health, the medical school and research groups throughout the engineering school, Murthy said.

Anyone wanting to support the work can donate to the school’s Problem Solvers Fund.

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