ISU professor 3D prints ear savers for surgical masks

ISU photoEar saver: Alex Elvis Badillo, an Indiana State University assistant professor of earth and environmental systems, spent the spring semester teaching courses online during the day and, at night in his garage, 3D printing ear savers for surgical masks.

Alex Elvis Badillo, an Indiana State University assistant professor of earth and environmental systems, spent the spring semester teaching courses online during the day and, at night in his garage, 3D printing ear savers for surgical masks.

The ear savers are meant to reduce tension behind the ear that is caused by typical facemasks. Badillo made them for Vigo County’s frontline workers against COVID-19 after a former student of his, Madeline Riley, a 2019 ISU graduate, suggested the project.

“She saw on social media that the online 3D printing community had begun to print out the surgical mask ear saver devices in an effort to contribute to healthcare and essential worker relief during the pandemic,” Badillo said. “Last year, she was involved in my lab, the Geospatial and Virtual Archeology Laboratory and Studio, where she knew that we used 3D printing methods for public outreach and educational purposes. So she brought [the idea] to my attention at first by tagging me on a Facebook post.”

The request piqued Badillo’s interest. He downloaded the National Institutes of Health facemask ear saver files and used free software that translates the information into something the 3D printer can understand. The ear savers are printed using plastic material.

Badillo donated ear savers to the Vigo County Health Department, but his efforts didn’t stop there.

He teaches a course called Archeological Methods: 3D documentation for science within his department at ISU. During a Zoom lecture on 3D printing as a tool for visualization, Badillo showed his students how to print 3D masks and other devices using the National Institutes of Health website.

Matt Deady, a student in the class and an intern at Clabber Girl, brought the concept of 3D masks to his boss and president of the company.

“As an intern, I couldn’t help but notice how many production workers were having issues with the masks we provided, particularly it hurting their ears and face,” Deady said. “When the issue emerged among the production workers, I recalled the live class session with Dr. Badillo about the ear savers, and reached out to him.”

Clabber Girl purchased 300 masks for its staff. The money will be used for ISU’s new visualization classroom and makerspace in the Science Building, where the 3D printers will be stationed when classes resume on campus.

Badillo said it takes about 80 minutes to produce five ear saver devices on a single printer. Using two 3D printers, he was able to print about 100 devices per day. He produced 300 in three days.

“I was simply showing my students in my class how we could use the printers, so I’m glad we could help in this way,” he said. “Our department prepares students for careers in both academia and the industry, teaching valued skills in state of the art visualization techniques and 3D technologies. Innovative visualization technologies are advancing rapidly and are already beginning to be used in most industries, so the new visualization classroom and makerspace gives our students hands-on training with these technologies.”

— This article was provided to the Tribune-Star by Indiana State University. 

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