NMSU College of Engineering makes personal protective equipment for area medical workers

Apr 10, 2020 6:37 PM

Vladimir Avina, New Mexico State University | April 9, 2020

The Aggie Innovation Space at New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering has been in high gear in recent days, as students and staff work to produce face shields for healthcare workers.

The effort is the result of conversations between Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu regarding the area’s need for additional personal protective equipment, and other resources, to combat COVID-19.

Reyes Lucero, mechanical engineering major and lead student employee of the Aggie Innovation Shop, said it is an honor to help his community during a global pandemic.

“Not everyone has access to a shop with the equipment we have here at NMSU,” Lucero said.

Using a laser cutter, a thermal press, a sheet metal pneumatic shear and multiple 3D printers, Lucero and other engineering students and staff have made more than 70 face shields that have been donated to MountainView Regional Medical Center.

Gabe Garcia, assistant dean of student success for the College of Engineering, met with Aggie Innovation Space student employees over Zoom last week. They discussed possible ways the makerspace and shop could be used to make personal protective equipment.

“I am so grateful to work in a space where we can help provide creative solutions to supply the community with materials that are essential during this difficult time,” said Kelsey Hayes, lead student innovator in the makerspace. “I’m always inspired by the engineering creativity that comes from the student innovators of the AIS, especially for figuring out the best way to utilize the resources we have.”

While concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 have temporarily closed the Aggie Innovation Space and Shop for student projects, engineering staff and student employees are able to make this contribution to the community, while practicing proper social distancing.

Meeting over Zoom, the team developed a process to manufacture 3D printed face shields. After manufacturing more than 50 of the face shields using the 3D printed parts, the process was reevaluated and the team switched to a different design that required less time to manufacture.

“Using 3D printed parts for the face shields can take hours for the prints to be completed and it’s only a few shields,” Garcia explained. “We have switched to a new design that doesn’t require any 3D printing and can produce 25 face shields in an hour.”

The new process for creating face shields starts with a sheet metal pneumatic shear. The shear cuts large plastic sheets of the material into smaller pieces that can be placed into a laser cutter. A high-powered laser cutter is then used to cut out the shape needed for the face shields. Using a thermal press, the shields are heated and placed on a cylinder to form the curvature in the plastic needed for the face shield. Lastly, all the pieces are put together and an elastic strap is placed on the headset.

NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez said when additional face shields are completed, they will be split between MountainView Regional Medical Center and Memorial Medical Center.

The AIS is an engineering resource and project center that supports students across the NMSU community. It was founded by the College of Engineering as a makerspace to foster new and innovative ideas. This past year, the AIS was expanded to include a completely modernized engineering machine shop, replacing 1960s-era equipment with new, state-of the-art technology.

“AIS is a tremendous resource that provides hands-on student experiences and supports research endeavors and cross-disciplinary projects to take ideas from concept to cutting-edge, commercially viable products,” said Lakshmi Reddi, College of Engineering dean.