Mount Carmel High School using 3D printers to make masks

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Tim Surges, an IT staff member at Mount Carmel High School, monitors a 3D printer on April 20, 2020. Mount Carmel High School STEM teachers use the school’s 3D printers to create protective masks for senior home workers. The school began the effort after schools were closed due to the pandemic and there was a shortage of personal protective equipment for first responders and hospital workers. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When schools were closed and residents were ordered to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic, educators at Mount Carmel High School, 6410 S. Dante Ave., wanted to do something to help.

That’s when an alumnus, Paul Rowan from the class of 1974, contacted the school’s president, Edward Hughes, with news of a grass-roots collaborative, Chicago Makers Fight COVID-19, and its effort to use the 3D printers scattered at schools and companies around the metropolitan area to produce reusable plastic face masks for use during the crisis.

Principal Scott Tabernacki said leaders were concerned about safety, given the stay-at-home order, but technology teacher Mike Rodgers was able to put together a plan that has one person at the school at a time, producing roughly 40 of the plastic masks each week.

Rodgers says he uses the two larger 3D printers the school acquired just this year to make the larger pieces of the masks. The four smaller printers, which the school has had since Rodgers arrived three years ago, make the smaller filter frames.

The school is using a design created and made available by the Billings Clinic in Montana.

“It’s not as simple as just uploading the design file and hitting start,” Tabernacki said. “That’s where my hat’s off to Doc Rodgers. He had to do a lot of calibrating and adjusting to get it right.”

“Each printing takes a long time, five or six hours, and it’s a challenge deciding when to print and how many to print,” Rodgers said. “And there’s troubleshooting, if the extruder gets clogged or something like that.”

But the machines don’t need someone to babysit them all the time, so Rodgers usually sets them to start at night, Mount Carmel IT staff member Tim Surges takes them off the machine in the morning and starts another set, and Rodgers comes in the afternoon to get those and start a third set.

They’ve been averaging 40 a week for three weeks, Rodgers said.

It’s a bit different from what the printers, housed in Mount Carmel’s Kevin F. Kennelly Jr. Design Center, are usually used for.

Rodgers said students use them during class and after school to make items such as key chains, cups with their initials and game characters. One student made a set of chess pieces, he said.

According to the Chicago Makers group, the masks produced at Mount Carmel are earmarked for the nine Silver Birch senior living facilities in Indiana, the closest of which is in Hammond. But 50 have also gone to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where a student’s mother works as an emergency room nurse.

“We’re all itching to get back to school in a big way, and we want to do whatever we can,” said Tony DiFilippo, the school’s vice president for marketing and strategy. “Whether that’s by printing masks or staying home. It falls within what we teach our young men every day in terms of prayer, charism and community. Every mask that we print means that we get to come back to school a little bit faster.”


  • catholic schools
  • coronavirus

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