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(By Lisa Garrett)

PENDLETON --- The 3-D printers in Tri-County Technical College’s fabrication lab have been running non-stop since Wednesday, April 1, when the faculty and staff from the Engineering and Industrial Technology (EIT) Division answered the call from area EMS agencies and began making personal protective equipment (PPE) for these frontline health care workers who are struggling to find this necessary gear during the COVID-19 crisis.

Since Governor Henry McMaster announced in March that all colleges and universities will be closed through April 30, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of this disease required college officials to shift the classroom-based spring course offerings to an online format. Tri-County transitioned to online instructional delivery with the goal being for all students to have the opportunity to complete the spring semester. Course content was moved to an e-learning format and that includes labs.

When EIT Division members aren’t teaching, advising, planning or working with students, they are making cartridge filters that are used with oxygen masks to make the approved N-95 for masks, along with straps for the masks.

“We reached out to EMS and hospital partners and asked how we could help,” said Mandy Elmore, dean of the EIT Division.

“They are in need of these items and we moved into planning and production mode,” she added. They are following an FDA-approved design created by MUSC.

Most of the materials were already in stock at the College and what other items were needed were bought at craft and hobby stores.

The 3-D straps for health care workers are designed to alleviate the pressure these protective masks often put on the ears, which makes wearing them uncomfortable.

“We found the design on Face book and downloaded the design from thingiverse. After the preparatory work, 12 hours later we were making and then testing prototypes,” said Elmore.

The masks are labor intensive so 10 – 20 is the maximum that can be made daily.

Once the parts are printed, it becomes a manual process and the assembly is meticulous, Elmore said.

Dan Cooper, the College’s chief of staff, began distributing the gear Tuesday, April 6. He delivered 16 straps to Fresenius Kidney Center and eight to the DeVita Kidney Center in Pendleton.

As of Tuesday, in observance of the Governor’s mandated stay-at- home order, Elmore said adjunct instructor Foster Sims, a graduate of the College’s General Engineering Technology program, took four small printers to his home and has been running them 24/7.

“We have a great team,” said Elmore.