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University of Costa Rica Applies 3D-Printing to Create Face Masks for COVID-19 Emergency

MARCH 26th 2020

*Article originally published by The University of Costa Rica: 
*Photo credit: Otto Salas, UCR

The country is going through one of the biggest health crises in its history with the Covid-19 pandemic and this means that all institutions have to join forces to combat it to be able to provide care to the patients at the national health centers.

To deal with this, several sections of the School of Engineering at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) continue to develop projects to work together with the care provided by the Costa Rican Social Security Institute (CCSS) at its hospitals. One of the proposals that have already come to fruition is to provide face protectors. These are one of the health devices mostly used by physicians, not just to take care of Covid-19 patients but also in surgeries and operations.

This initiative includes the design and preparation of face protectors made with six 3D printers using biodegradable materials. The first batch of 50 units will be distributed at the Calderón Guardia, Mexico, and San Juan de Dios Hospitals and at the Trauma Hospital by this Friday, March 27, at the latest. As more devices of this type are printed and assembled, they will be sent to medical centers based on their requirements.

Part of the team of specialists who have kept working at the School of  Electrical Engineering (SEE) facilities is made up of the Dean of the Engineering School, Engineer Orlando Arrieta Orozco; the SEE Director, Engineer Lochi Yu Lo; the SEE researcher and instructor, Engineer Leonardo Marín Paniagua; and a technician from the Institute of Engineering Research (IER), Alex Fernández Hernández. The 3D printing equipment was provided by the School of Mechanical Engineering, the SEE, and the IER.

The contract between the School of Engineering and the CCSS was possible thanks to Dr. Rodrigo Mora Rodríguez, an instructor and researcher at the School of Microbiology. He was able to link communications between the engineers at the UCR and the CCSS technical area to determine which projects could be developed.

“We were also in contact with some of the doctors who work in intensive care and the first proposal was to make an N-95 type face mask that includes a filter. However, due to the material that the printers use, the prototype that was created did not have a hermetic seal and there were spaces left at the sides when it was placed on the face. Therefore, we rolled out face masks to protect the face and become a great complement for the medical staff," said Engineer Lochi Yu Lo.

For his part, Engineer Orlando Arrieta pointed out the closeness that exists between public institutions at such difficult moments as the times that the country is going through and made a call to join together in this project in specific, “we have the 3D printers here at the SEE, but if other laboratories from the UCR itself and other public universities want to join in and make their printers available for this work, they are more than welcome. The more face protectors that we are able to make, the better. They may write to us at email:”, the Dean indicated.

This way the UCR continues to provide concrete ideas that reinforce the work by the CCSS and by the Ministry of Health to face the Covid-19 pandemic and to minimize its negative impact on Costa Rican's health.