Principal Uses School Lab To Make PPE Masks

This face shield represents the finished product from a partnership between the Wynot Public Schools and Wilson Trailer Company of Yankton. The shields are used by local medical personnel in their battle against COVID-19.

WYNOT, Neb. — While Wynot students remained home during the pandemic, Principal Grant Torpin used the available classroom equipment to fight COVID-19.

Superintendent Jeff Messersmith and Torpin remained on duty at the empty building during the final two months of the school year. Torpin, who also serves as the career academy coordinator, looked at ways the idle facilities could serve the public.

In particular, he focused his attention on the “maker space lab” with its 3D printer and other technology. His thoughts turned to the high demand for protective personal equipment (PPE), particularly for health professionals.

“We formed a partnership with Wilson Trailer Company (in Yankton) to make parts for face shields,” Torpin said. “We started making the shields, then Wilson finished and donated them to fight COVID-19. Our goal was 250 to start with.”

Aaron Larson, senior engineering manager at Wilson Trailer, served as a liaison between the school and company. On its website, the company explained the joint effort using 3D printers and laser cutters.

“Wynot Public Schools is cutting the clear shield part out of projector film plus producing the lower stiffener on their 3D printers,” the site said.

“Wilson Trailer is producing the top frames on their 3D printers, cutting the foam head pad and handling the final assembly. We are donating them to the Yankton Medical Clinic and local medical facilities.”

The Wynot schools’ shutdown during the pandemic freed up the equipment and manpower for pursuing the face shield project, Torpin said.

“As far as the face shield, we have the overhead projector slides — the old transparency films — that math teachers used,” he said. “We had a bunch of them in the basement collecting dust, and we had no need for them.”

The transparency sheets were placed in a special layout design to mass produce the shields.

“We have the four holes that we match up to a piece of the shield and the outline that it cuts,” he said. “We take that to our laser engraver, and we load up four or five sheets at a time and send the design to it. Then, it’s cut out perfectly shaped.”

The process moved so quickly that Torpin could wait for a “batch” to come out. “It’s actually pretty slick. I can do eight (sheets) in two minutes, which is pretty good output,” he said.

In addition, the school’s maker space lab was used to create the bottom parts of the shield. The curved pieces fit into a small groove at the bottom of the mask. Wynot’s equipment could produce 22 at one time during a period of 2-3 hours.

Even when he wasn’t working at the school, Torpin could continue producing more face shield parts.

“I live near the school, and I could keep going back and forth between my house and the school to check on things,” he said.

Once the manufacturing part was completed, the face shield parts underwent one more step in the Wynot lab, Torpin said.

“We then put them in the alcohol bath to get rid of the sticky parts, or the parts that aren’t solid, which is about a 20-minute process,” the principal said.

“Once we get done, we put it in the mini-oven and cure it. In the end, we get these little guys to Wilson Trailer. There, they produce the head bands, which takes a little bigger machine and we don’t have the capacity to do it.”

Yankton Medical Clinic received the face shields, which played a role in meeting their PPE needs. The clinic has implemented protocols to protect the health and safety of patients and staff.

The Wilson Trailer shipment, which included the Wynot masks, is part of an ongoing local effort to maintain the proper PPE and to keep the supply chain moving for medical needs.

“Yankton Medical Clinic, P.C. is thankful for the outpouring of support and donated PPE items from the community,” said YMC marketing director Cheryl Havermann.

The face shield project has emerged as one more way the Wynot maker space lab can serve the greater region, Torpin said.

“It’s a cool partnership that we’re enjoying with (Wilson), and it’s a lot of fun. We love helping out any way we can,” he said.

“Hopefully, we can get back into the school building during the next year. If so, we’ll have this lab going full time with students and classes using this technology.”

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