ST. GEORGE — The 3D printer at Dixie State University Atwood Innovation Plaza made little noise as it ran through a batch of plastic parts cut out to later assemble N95 masks for use by area fire and police departments. Nearby, the new director of Atwood Innovation Plaza, Colby Jenkins, shared how they are helping first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jenkins, who was recently employed at Google headquarters in California, said the plaza is a place designed to help entrepreneurs incubate and grow ideas into viable companies while also providing a way to create working prototypes of their proposed products.
“My role here is to help everyone connect, to help the innovation and the ecosystem that we’re building here produce what we intend to … ideas, companies and jobs,” Jenkins said.
Though the innovation plaza is primarily geared toward DSU students, its also open to the public, he said.
One of the ways the plaza’s capabilities has been utilized for the public benefit is through printing N95 respirator masks for the Washington City Fire Department and St. George Police Department. Last week a batch of 200 was completed and delivered to the Fire Department, with another 250 being printed for the Police Department.
The N95 masks are a form of personal protection equipment, or PPE, for first responders as they continue to work in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Honeywell, a commercial supplier of professional N95 masks, the masks “filter out contaminants like dusts, mists and fumes. The minimum size of .3 microns of particulates and large droplets won’t pass through the barrier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Zack Manweiler, Atwood Innovation Plaza’s makerspace director, told St. George News the idea to make the masks came from Washington City’s economic development director.
“Matt Loo from Washington City came to me and said, ‘I found some models on the internet of respirators that I would like to have 3D printed,’” Manweiler said. “I said, ‘Sure. We can print all of them for you.’”
The masks are meant to be reusable and have an attachment that a filter element can be wrapped around and then popped into the main part of the mask, Manweiler said while showing off one of the finished masks and their attachments.
Washington City Fire Captain Julio Reyes said the fire department currently had a supply of regular N95 masks on hand thanks to the efforts of Fire Chief Matt Evans. At a time when N95 masks became increasingly hard to get and orders were limited, Evans was able to procure an ample supply for the time being, Reyes said.
“We got those (the 3D printed masks) as a precaution in case there’s a surge and we run out,” Reyes said.
Compared to what first responders and other professionals may use on the job, Manweiler said the masks the innovation plaza printed are a sturdier, superior product that also has a longer use expectancy.
Each mask costs an estimated $1.25 to make.
In addition to the N95 masks, another venture the Innovation Plaza has been involved in is Steribin, a company startup in St. George that uses pulsating ultraviolet light to sterilize bins that go through X-ray machines used by the TSA at airports. This same technology has been put to use sterilizing the PPE of first responders in the area.
“They’ve taken their machine onsite to the hospital and to the police station,” Jenkins said. “In a sterilized trailer, the Police Department and health professionals have brought their PPE, put it in the bins and pass it through the machine and had it sterilize them.”
The innovation plaza and its makerspace, which houses 3D printers and other devices, opened last year following renovations to the former East Elementary School, which Dixie State brought from the Washington County School District.
To learn more about Atwood Innovation Plaza, visit its website.
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