During the COVID-19 pandemic, Purdue University has manufactured thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE), thanks to a donation of raw materials from 3M. 

“My background is in roll-to-roll manufacturing and processing, especially of polymer films,” said Mukerrem Cakmak, Purdue’s Reilly Professor of Materials and Mechanical Engineering. “I had already built a roll-to-roll machine in a cleanroom at Birck Nanotechnology Center. So when the pandemic hit, our team decided we had to do something to help.” 

Healthcare facilities were in desperate need of simple items like transparent face shields and eyeglass inserts — items that could easily be laser-cut by the machine in Cakmak’s lab. But the quarantine made it difficult to locate enough raw materials necessary to manufacture the PPE. That’s when some Purdue alumni working at 3M in Minnesota stepped up. 

“I reached out to Purdue and mentioned that 3M makes film, and we might be able to help you,” said Kenyon Sayler, lean value stream manager for 3M’s commercial solutions division, and a 1981 Purdue graduate in mechanical engineering. 

Jeffrey Kehoe, lean value stream engineer, and a 2010 Purdue graduate in chemical engineering, said, “We manufacture a lot of polyester substrate for our window films. This transparent material is perfect for face shields and other similar items; all we had to do was cut it into 9.5-inch rolls. We ended up sending Purdue about 17,000 square yards of this material.” 

Cakmak said the Purdue team was scrambling to get raw materials, and they arrived just in time. 

“It was just the shot in the arm we needed. We are so grateful to 3M for this amazing gift,” he said. 

Once the materials arrived at Purdue, Cakmak’s team immediately began production. The rolls of clear film are fed through a laser-cutting apparatus, which instantly perforates the exact shape of the face shield. Elsewhere on campus, a Purdue team of nearly 40 faculty and staff members are 3D-printing eyeglass frames and other components necessary to complete the PPE. Once assembled, the finished pieces are freely distributed to health care facilities thoughout Indiana. 

“We’ve been manufacturing these since day one,” Cakmak said. “We have three volunteers — research scientist Nick Glassmaker, research engineer Joon Park, and research engineer Guy Telesnicki — each of whom takes a three-hour shift. So our machine is running nine hours a day. We can make more than 4,000 face shields a day.” 

Sayler is thankful for the relationship between Purdue and 3M that made this collaboration possible. “We have many Purdue grads here on our team,” Sayler said. “We got approval in 45 minutes to supply this material, and in nine days, Jeff’s team turned it around and had these truckloads at Purdue. 3M and Purdue are both such great organizations that value this kind of support for their communities.” 

Kehoe agrees. “The fact we can supply the raw material to make a product that can help doctors and nurses on the front lines is a good feeling,” he said. 

This face shield production effort is part of a broader effort at Purdue to produce and distribute PPE in Indiana. Since the project began in March, more than 25,000 pieces of PPE have been distributed to health facilities and first responders. According to Maker project lead Nathan Hartman, Purdue's Dauch Family Professor of Advanced Manufacturing and head of the Department of Computer Graphics Technology, the Maker project is now also producing materials to assist with the Protect Purdue effort to bring students back to campus. 

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