Members of the Lumen Christi robotics team with 4K teacher Michelle Harmon. (Submitted photo)

When the teachers of Lumen Christi Parish School in Mequon returned to their classrooms Sept. 1, they were made a little bit safer by the efforts of the school’s robotics team, whose members spent hundreds of hours over the past six months printing and compiling 3D face shields for their teachers to use when in-person school resumed this fall.

The Lumen Christi robotics team consists of 14 students from grades four through eight who are usually busy competing in the FIRST LEGO League, which culminates in regional tournaments and championships. Last year, the Lumen Christi team made it to state championships.

But this spring, with in-person learning suspended at the onset of the pandemic, the kids put their STEM skills to use in the real world. It was back in March that Craig Miller, the team’s head coach, read about a teacher in Minnesota that was creating personal protective equipment (PPE) using his 3D printer.

“I emailed the teacher and said, ‘I’ve got a team here and we’re happy to help if you need it,’” said Miller. That teacher introduced him to Doug Scott, a high school engineering instructor from Massachusetts who heads up The Shield Team 2020, a national consortium of educators and students printing PPE. Through Scott, Miller got access to the CAD files for the face shield holder. Using an app called Tinkerdad, the robotics students were able to manipulate the file and export it to a “slicer” app that “basically takes the solid object and slices it into layers, letting you control all those aspects to get a good print,” Miller said. “Once you’ve sliced it, you export it into the file for your printer.” The team used a Prusa i3 MK3s and two FlashForge Inventor II models to print 52 face shields in all.

Originally, the team had planned to donate the face shields to local hospitals in need of PPE but ultimately decided to give them to their own teachers.

“We have quite a mix from young to older and more experienced teachers, and they’re understandably concerned about getting sick,” said Miller. “We want to do everything we can do to help them be protected. The kids are super happy to be actually back in school, and I think they all understand that if they keep each other safe, they get to stay in school.”

The face shields have two printed components, Miller said — the shield holder that is affixed to the wearer’s head using rubber bands, and a comfort strap that can be adjusted. The third component is the face shield itself, a sheet of clear acetate — typically an overhead projector sheet punched with holes to match the shield holder.

Each shield took about four hours to print, in addition to the comfort straps. The students also spent hours on Miller’s porch using X-acto knives to clear off plastic “streamers” that had been left on the edges of the shields by the printer. They then bagged the shield kits wearing gloves and masks.

It all made for an emotional return to full-time school, said Miller.

“When they came back after the first day of school and the teachers were wearing the stuff that they made — that’s when it really became more real for them,” he said. “They’re just studious, respectful kids. They’re being trained to do service projects for the community; so this is very natural for them.”