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Ohio University engineering industry partner pivots to answer critical need for PPE

Ohio University research partner Materials Resources LLC (MRL), located at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology’s research park near Dayton, Ohio, is best known for its work in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, for the aerospace defense industry. But when the COVID-19 pandemic presented an urgent demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), the company recognized an opportunity to extend its business to fulfill a critical need.

CEO Ayman Salem and fellow MRL scientist Daniel Satko met on a Sunday evening in mid-March to brainstorm the fastest and easiest items they could manufacture and supply for relief efforts. By midnight, they’d designed a reusable face shield. A prototype was born Monday morning, and less than 24 hours after the duo’s initial idea had been conceived, MRL Medical had been registered as a business and its website was live.

“We believe the face shield could be a tremendous help for the general public, not just healthcare workers,” Salem said. “Face shields not only protect people while they’re talking and breathing – they also prevent people from touching their face.”

As scientists, Salem and Satko extensively consulted research literature to ensure their design provided the closest amount of protection compared to N95 masks, which are in short supply. The shields are designed to be removed easily with one hand and can be cleaned with soap and water or by soaking them in a sterilizing solution.

Strong believers in “the spirit of DIY,” MRL Medical offers three ways to obtain the face shields. Opensource plans enable individuals to 3D print and assemble shields at home; kits can be purchased from MRL Medical to assemble face shields at home; or completed face shields, assembled by the MRL Medical team, can be purchased.

That team includes McKenzie Hatton, an OHIO engineering and technology management junior. Prior to spring break, supported by Russ Vision funds, she was performing undergraduate research on material analysis of 3D printed components – working both from campus and visiting MRL, which is located at the Russ Research Center (RRC) in Beavercreek, Ohio. Her semester was upended when her courses moved online. The silver lining? When she moved back home, MRL offered her a formal internship either working from home or joining MRL colleagues onsite at the RRC to help build shields. In her words, she chose to help others.

“I was excited when I realized that our team designed a solution for all my fellow college students or anyone else who wants to help,” she wrote on her blog. “I am a proud member of the MRL Medical LLC team and will continue fighting to save the lives of those battling COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, Russ College faculty are engaged with MRL on defense industry research, including additive manufacturing of metallic materials for high strain rate applications, analyzing metal additive parts for fatigue and other forms of failure, and other projects.

Where does MRL Medical focus next? Salem says the company has also created preliminary designs for powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) masks and battery powered respirators. Just as quickly as the company was able to launch its face shield, they hope to bring prototypes of their PPE concepts to life within a week.

Salem doesn’t see the innovation behind MRL Medical’s sudden existence coming to an end after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. Rather, he sees his new company as the beginning of our society’s shift toward distributed manufacturing – and an age where tools like 3D printing can turn everyday people into entrepreneurs.

“We’d like to enable American households to flourish during these hard times, and then continue flourishing after that,” he said. “We come from a country of producers – we have been since the time of Ford, and I’d like for us to go back to that.”

April 8, 2020
Marissa McDaid and Colleen Carow