If you think 3D printing is just a cool hobby for technophiles, think again: this technology can help save lives. Just ask Hiro Ward of Fine Island Properties, LLC, who has been using a sewing machine and a 3D printer to make personal protective equipment for those who face the greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19.

In late March, Ward and her husband, Ben, borrowed a 3D printer from Maui Makers, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that brings people together to create, invent and learn with shared resources at its facility in Waikapu. Since then, Ward has printed and sewn face coverings for Maui’s frontline workers and others in need. And she’s not alone.

Ward is one of nearly 40 volunteers who teamed up to either sew fabric masks or use a 3D printer to make masks and shields—or in some cases, both. She says her husband, who is also part of the mask-and-shield-making team, inspired her to try her hand at creating the 3D-printed protective gear. “His 3D printing team members are so generous with their time, money and effort and have brilliant ideas,” she said. As for the fabric masks, Ward credits her friend Mari Diller for encouraging her to start sewing. “Her generosity inspired me greatly,” she said.

Ward says she initially had no idea how to make the face coverings, but quickly got the hang of it. “I had never made any of them in my life… I learned everything from scratch,” she said. “Once you know how, they are not hard to make at all.”

So far, the team of volunteers has collectively assembled and donated 10 3D-printed face masks to Hospice Maui and close to 700 3D-printed face shields to Maui Health Foundation and nurses at Maui Memorial Medical Center. They’ve also sewn and donated nearly 700 fabric masks to Kula Hospital, Maui Memorial Medical Center, Bayada (a home health care agency), Kokua Meals (a team of volunteers who prepare and serve meals to food-insecure residents), seniors living in Keanae, and many others who need them.

And Ward and her fellow team members didn’t stop there. “We also wanted to help local business owners—like restaurants that are still open for takeout orders—local friends and families because people need masks to get groceries now,” she said. “We even donated some to the post offices and to Costco workers.”

Ward said the team is now making scrub caps for nurses. As of last week, they had made close to 200.

And when it comes to 3D printing, the sky’s the limit. “We have made so many different products with 3D printers, like ear guards to take pressure off the back of the ears when wearing masks and attachments that make bias tape,” Ward said. “It’s hard to say how many [products] we have made. What hospital workers need changes every week and every day, plus so many amazing ideas for great products come up every day as well.”

The 3D printing process requires some patience: Ward said it takes about five hours to print 10 shields and assembling the various parts can also be time-consuming.

But the time invested is time well spent. Ward says she’s received plenty of thank yous from those who have received the masks and shields. “We make them so happy. They thank us so much… so we know we are doing something great for our community,” she said. “I almost cried when I dropped the face shields off at a nurse’s home who works at the check-up station at Keopuolani Park. They are risking their life to work for us, so we just do what we can to help.”

For more information about the personal protective gear-making team effort, contact Ward at hiro@mauihomesdirect.com. To learn more about Maui Makers, visit www.mauimakers.com.

The Maui News – May 4, 2020

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