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Austin Peay State University GIS Center leads statewide effort to produce face shields to combat Coronavirus

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – The Austin Peay State University (APSU) GIS Center is leading a statewide effort to produce face shields for medical workers battling the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Tennessee.

Ben Meisch and Austin Peay State University GIS Center Project Manager Doug Catellier examine a 3D printer at work on a shield frame. (APSU)
Ben Meisch and Austin Peay State University GIS Center Project Manager Doug Catellier examine a 3D printer at work on a shield frame. (APSU)

The center’s staff and students quickly answered a call from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee late last week to contribute ideas and resources to the coronavirus fight by designing and building a 3D-printed prototype shield.

“One of our students put it together, and health professionals from the state reviewed it and decided to go with the design,” said Mike Wilson, the center’s director. “That design was sent all over the state to various universities to start printing.”

The face shields have three parts: a 3D-printed shield frame, an acetate face shield and an elastic band. Ten universities and technical colleges across the state are printing the frames and sending them to APSU, where the GIS Center will pair them with the acetate shields and elastic bands for packaging.

A shipment of shield frames and other supplies arrived by airplane at the Clarksville Regional Airport on Tuesday.

Austin Peay State University also has nine 3D printers – collected from departments across campus – working into the night creating shield frames. Wilson hopes to add more printers and people to the assembly and expand it to a 24-hour daily operation.

“I’m not a medical professional, but I am a technology person, and if we can use technology to assist, we need to do that,” Wilson said. “I’m in a high-risk group – I had a heart attack in November – and a doctor saved my life. If I can help them out and pay that back, I want to go ahead and do that.”

First boxes expected to ship on Wednesday

Wilson expects the first boxes of face shields to ship from Austin Peay State University to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday, March 25th. Each face shield will have one frame, an elastic band and 20 replaceable acetate shields so medical workers can replace their shields after each patient.

Wilson hopes to ship 1,000 face shields with 20,000 replaceable acetate shields in the first shipment. Each shield frame takes about two hours to print, and each acetate shield takes a minute or two to cut. 

The GIS Center is printing the face shields while also performing its daily tasks to the community, such as keeping the Clarksville-Montgomery County Road Conditions dashboard updated. 

Three students have contributed many hours and expertise to the project: Michael Hunter, Rachael Davis and Bryndon Rhoton. Hunter created the first prototype. The center’s full-time staff worked through the weekend. 

“We feel very honored to be able to assist with this,” Wilson said. “I think it’s really important not just for us to be able to contribute, but also have our students seeing us contribute, showing a willingness to go above and beyond to help our community.” 

The GIS Center also is trying to help during the COVID-19 pandemic in other ways, both in their early stages:

  • Using 3D printers to build filtering face masks. The center has not found a viable filter material safe enough for medical use. “We’re trying to come up with a mask that acts like an N95 (respirator) mask,” Wilson said.
  • Creating a countywide map pinpointing where residents can get help with COVID-19, “whether it’s a testing facility, a place to get food,” said Doug Catellier, the center’s project manager.

Along with Austin Peay, the following colleges are helping with the face shield project:

  • East Tennessee State University.
  • Middle Tennessee State University.
  • TCAT Elizabethton.
  • TCAT Shelbyville.
  • TCAT Murfreesboro.
  • Tennessee Technological University.
  • TCAT Jackson.
  • University of Memphis.
  • University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

To donate to the APSU GIS Center 

Donations can be made to the Austin Peay State University GIS Center at www.givetoapsu.com/GIS or APSU GIS Fund of Excellence, P.O. Box 4417, Clarksville, TN  37044


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