Science & Tech

Engineering student Mohamed Elsageyer with the prototype mask he designed. Photo: U of O Gazette

U of O’s Richard L’Abbé Makerspace using 3D printers and laser cutters to create masks 

As hospitals brace for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients and concerns around a potential shortage of personal protective equipment grow, University of Ottawa engineers are pumping out plastic face shields for frontline health-care workers at the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace lab on campus. 

Using 3D printers and laser cutters, the engineers working in the lab are able to produce 100 masks per day, but say they could make more if they’re able to secure more 3D printers. Electrical engineering professor Hanan Anis, who heads the lab, says requests for the masks haven’t stopped coming in since the designs were posted on social media

“We all saw the horrific images coming out of Italy and I asked a few people at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Engineering Design (CEED) to start thinking of how to help,” Anis said in a Gazette article posted March 25. “Face masks were the simplest and most needed, so my student, Mohamed Elsageyer, started designing a prototype.”

Three more students are involved in the initiative as well: Justine Boudreau, manager of the Makerspace and Makerlab, Midia Shiekh Hassan, manager of the Makerlaunch program, and engineering student Simon Tremblay.

In a tweet on Friday, Anis said the lab produced 223 face shields on Thursday alone, protecting 626 health-care professionals this week. 

Dr. Bernard Leduc, president and CEO of Ottawa’s Montfort Hospital, has brought some of the masks back to the hospital for use in simulations. 

“The need for masks at the hospital is very urgent,” Leduc said in the Gazette article. “We are dependent on procurement and have no idea when new masks will be delivered. If supplies don’t arrive regularly and clinical activity related to COVID-19 increases, we will face grave difficulties.”

The group at the U of O’s Makerspace lab is looking to build on the design of their face shields by lengthening the mask’s visor and edges, as well as adding forehead padding and strengthening the support band. They are also working on a prototype for a low-cost ventilator.

“As engineers, we often feel helpless as we are not on the frontlines,” Anis said in the Gazette article. “But the maker community is responding to the crisis with amazing ingenuity. This is the culture we built here, and I had no doubt that they would jump at the opportunity to help.”

As of Friday, there were 289 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa but none confirmed in the U of O community. Three people in Ottawa have died. Ottawa’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches urges everyone to remain home and only leave the house unless necessary, such as for a weekly grocery trip. 

Across the province, there have been 67 deaths from COVID-19 and at least 3,255 confirmed cases of the virus as of Friday, with 1,023 labelled as resolved. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has declared a state of emergency and the province has closed all non-essential businesses. The province has now limited gatherings to no more than five people, with exceptions for some events. 

There have been at least 11,732 confirmed cases of the virus and 152 deaths across Canada.

Globally, COVID-19 has infected more than one million people and killed over 58,000 since emerging in China in December 2019. There have been over 225,000 recoveries from the virus.