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Walworth school's technology rescues ears from face mask fatigue

Walworth school's technology rescues ears from face mask fatigue

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WALWORTH – Using 3-D printing, Walworth Elementary School is creating plastic bands designed to prevent aching ears from wearing protective face masks for prolonged periods.

“Comfort bands” are thin strips of plastic with hooks that hold elastic face mask bands behind the head instead of around the ears.

For employees and others wearing tight-fitting face masks for up to eight hours a day, the bands can prevent relief from elastic pulling on the ears for long stretches.

So far the school has distributed about 110 bands to staff at the Golden Years retirement home, Daniels Sentry Foods, and the Walworth Fire and Rescue Department.

Brent Wilson, leader of the Innovation and Design Center at Walworth Elementary, said he found a design for the comfort bands on the National Institute of Health website and decided to begin printing and distributing them to community groups.

Wilson said even while wearing a face mask during quick trips to the grocery store, he has noticed soreness around his ears. He hopes the bands can prevent aching for those wearing masks all day.

“I’ve moved to using the comfort band, and it makes a huge difference,” he said. “The backs of my ears aren’t sore, and the mask actually fits on my face a lot better as well.”

Cory Schultz, a firefighter and advanced EMT with the Walworth Fire and Rescue Department, said when the state’s “Safer At Home” order was implemented in March, the department adopted a policy that masks should be worn whenever responding to a call.

With some masks fitting more tightly than others, Schultz said, the bands provide comfort for first responders in the department.

He added that the department is grateful for the 30 bands received, and officials are pleased to see Walworth Elementary reach out to offer assistance.

“With the school being shut down, they didn’t have to go there and do this for us, but they felt it was something they can do,” he said. “This was their little calling, and we graciously accepted it.”

Three-D printers operate by melting plastic that quickly cools after being “printed” layer after layer in accordance with a digital design until a physical object is formed.

Using the one 3-D printer in the school’s Innovation and Design Center large enough to produce the bands, Wilson said he was able to produce about one band in a just over an hour.

But as more community workers expressed interest in comfort bands, Wilson said he spoke with school principal Phill Klamm about how the process could be expedited.

Klamm said community demand for the comfort bands presented a perfect opportunity for the school to put a $750 donation from the Lakeland Community Church in January to good use.

After some research, the school found an additional 3-D printer that could almost double production of the new face mask comfort accessories.

“It just seemed to fit,” Klamm said. “When this came up, it almost seemed like this was supposed to happen this way.”

With the original and new printer operating at the same time, Wilson said he is now able to produce 25 bands in a single day.

In addition to the 110 already distributed, about 80 additional bands have been stockpiled for distribution to other interested groups or to students if masks need to be worn in schools this fall.

Klamm said he hopes to distribute the bands to those in need, and he encourages groups to reach out to the school with requests.

“The idea is that, if there is anyone out there that this might help, it’s the least we can do,” he said.

Wilson said he is also waiting for supplies to begin making plastic face shields using the Innovation and Design Center’s laser cutter. He added that the 3-D printers can be used to create the head straps for the face shields.

“There’s a lot of excitement around 3-D printing and what you can do with it,” he said. “This is just a great example that the tools we’re using in the classroom have a huge benefit to the world today.”

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