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Alan Kirby, Pittsburg community member and PSU alumni, works on a 3D printer to make masks on Wednesday, Apr. 1. Kirby plans on sending his masks to a hospital in Billings, Montana. Lesly Bocanegra

Pittsburg man creates innovative masks to fight COVID-19

In the midst of the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), many health care providers and hospitals have faced a shortage of essential items such as gloves and face masks.  

Alan Kirby, a local Pittsburg resident, has stepped up in this time hour of crisis to create masks using 3D printing. In the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic which has affected the lives millions of people around the globe, he started the initiative to provide the much-needed masks and do his part for the welfare of the community. 

 “I began working on this project last week after seeing some posts on social media surrounding the initiative,” Kirby said. “Now there are a team of people from Pitsco Education and the Pitsco Idea Shop in Block 22 jumping in on effort. Due to the relatively slow nature of 3D printing, the more printers we can get focused on the project, the better.”   

To counter the shortage of masks he didn’t set any targets for numbers of masks created, but he recognizes the importance of every mask that is fabricated with the help of 3D printer.  

“Every little bit helps,” Kirby said. “I try to keep my printer running at all times of the day and night.”  

To create the masks in the printer, Kirby used files designed by the medical entities that required them. 

 “The files for the mask and face shield parts were designed and provided by the medical entities that need them,” Kirby said. “I simply downloaded the files, setup the machine and reload the filament material as needed. 3D printers work like a hot glue gun; the biodegradable plastic is melted and extruded out while stepper motors move the extruder around the build plate. Layer by layer it stacks up to produce the part.”  

Members and organizations in the community help contribute to the project, with Pitsco Education donating the plastic filament needed.   

The cost of fabricating the mask is very cost effective. According to Kirby, the approximate material cost per mask is $0.34.  

To aid in the need for masks, Kirby’s trying to print as many masks as he can, before sending them on their way to finish the process for distribution. 

A 3D-printed mask made by Alan Kirby. Kirby plans on sending his masks to a hospital in Billings, Montana. Lesly Bocanegra

 “I’ve printed 3 dozen in the past 6 days,” Kirby said. “The initial run are headed to the Billings Clinic in Montana. There they will get sterilized and the filters will be packaged with them for distribution and use.” 

Kirby feels optimistic about the progress of the project. 

“The project is going well,” Kirby said. “I will consider it a success when the pandemic is over and our hospitals and healthcare workers have never run out of personal protective equipment (PPE).”  

Kirby hopes to also contribute to local hospitals and health care centers. 

“This week I’m switching gears to start face shield brackets which could likely be used locally in the state of Kansas,” Kirby said. 

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