COVID-19, Healthcare, Medical, Medicine, Manufacturing, Product Innovations, Vancouver

Out of the 3D printers of babes: 12-year-old Canadian Boy Scout helps solve a literal pain point for healthcare workers

The Problem

Not even frontline workers’ ears have been spared in coronavirus casualties. Social media posts around the world describe everything from headaches to open sores due to the constant rubbing of their masks’ straps.

The Solution

A nurse in Vancouver, Canada, created a Facebook post seeking solutions to her and other healthcare workers’ ear pain. Quinn Callander, 12, saw the post and took to the Internet. He searched for ear-guard prototypes he could print on his family’s 3D printer with materials they had on-hand.

A family friend who was a nurse tested a variety of Quinn’s prints. The most effective design was one from Thingiverse, a collaborative website for makers. The design was Ken Lord’s, an engineer who happens to be from the same town as Quinn, though that had nothing to do with how Quinn found the template.

“Thanks to Quinn’s efforts, and the pure luck that they linked to this Thingiverse page in their post, this file has been downloaded 69,500 times!” Lord writes in his design’s summary. “People all over the world are making Ear Savers for their local healthcare workers! I’d sure like for him to know how far his good deed has gone to influence people to help out.”

As of April 9, Quinn alone had printed 1,700 ear guards. A volunteer group he’s part of had printed 5,000 more. Meanwhile, the NIH approved the design for use in a clinical setting, and Quinn’s mother’s original Facebook post has been shared 463,000 times and garnered 287,000 likes.

Quinn received the 3D printer for his birthday last year, and it has proven to be the gift that keeps on giving.

The Takeaway

While the market for face shields is booming, the transparent plastic used in making them is in high demand and so is scarce. The publicly available ear guard design, however, can be made from polylactic acid, which comes from renewable bio-resources like sugar cane and corn starch.

Polylactic acid is often used in items like medical screws that can safely degrade in the body over time. It’s also the most common material used in 3D printing. Because it is so accessible, there’s no wait for 3D-printer owners to change the world, one ear guard at a time.

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