Skiing season was over. Golf courses were closed. Baseball was on hold.
Louie Beardell was feeling kind of bored, what with his school on spring break and no chance to get outside and play sports with his buddies.
He decided to try to save the world.
Or one person, anyway. Or maybe 50. Or 100.
“My goal is to make 1,000,” said Beardell, 14, of the face shields for area hospital workers that he has been producing using 3D printers in the basement of his parents’ home in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.
Beardell and his parents dropped off 25 face shields to Chestnut Hill Hospital last Thursday and 50 to Einstein Medical Center this past Monday. By week’s end, they plan to donate 25 more, to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and they plan to keep producing the personal protective equipment for the foreseeable future.
“It feels great to be able to do something good,” Beardell said. “So many people sit and watch the news and you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. It feels really good to try to do something about it.”
Beardell is a freshman at Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square. He’s a top athlete, a top student, and such a technological wiz that school officials ask him to fix the copiers and printers before they call in a repair specialist.
“He doesn’t get that from us,” Louie’s mother, Donna Beardell, a homemaker, said of herself and her husband, Lou, a patent attorney.
Louie isn’t alone in using 3D printers to produce personal protective equipment for medical workers in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Trans “RJ” Lualhati, a 2016 La Salle University graduate and materials engineer for Johnson & Johnson, borrowed four printers from his alma mater and also has been creating face shields, in his apartment in the Brewerytown section of the city.
Lualhati has donated one batch of 30 face shields to a nursing home in Northeast Philadelphia and plans to supply more to the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Abington Hospitals.
“As long as the cases keep coming, I’m going to keep rolling with it,” said Laulhati, who was assisted in procuring the 3D printers from La Salle by his old professor Bill Weaver, the chair of the school’s integrated science, business and technology (ISBT) department.
Louie Beardell had his own 3D printer, a Christmas gift from his parents in 2018. He had used it to create a functioning hovercraft and some model cars as well as household items such as a holder for kitchen utensils.
“He brought the hovercraft to school – it was so cool,” said Matt Memmo, the chair of Episcopal Academy’s computer science and engineering department.
A 3D printer works by extruding molten plastic through a tiny nozzle that moves under computer control. It prints one layer, delays during drying, then prints the next layer, eventually creating a physical replication of a digital design.
Louie said his inspiration for making face shields “came out of boredom, pretty much.”
He began researching online, finally settling on a design for face shields from a 3D printer company in the Czech Republic.
“They donated a bunch to the Czech Republic Health Ministry, so I figured if it went to a government it must be reliable,” Louie said.
He made a few using his own 3D printer, then decided to dream big. He approached Memmo and asked to borrow three of the school’s 3D printers.
“It’s really amazing, what Louie is doing,” said Memmo, who helped facilitate the lending of the school’s 3D printers to the Beardells. “We’re super proud of him.”
Now there’s a “little factory” in the basement, according to Donna Beardell. She said it runs 24/7, makes a substantial amount of noise, and features an assembly line of workers.
“My husband punches the holes, since that was starting to hurt Louie’s hands,” Donna Beardell said. “I cut the acetate sheets using a blade.”
The Beardells estimate it takes 3½ hours and $4 or $5 to make each face shield. They’ve spent around $2,000 on material – acetate sheets, filament, elastic bands – plus shipping.
Louie is a competitive ski racer who recently participated in the state championships. He’s a member of the golf team and the baseball program at Episcopal Academy. Those activities make his parents proud. But this project feels different.
“It’s very gratifying to see him take interest in something like this,” said Lou Beardell. “There’s so much negativity, with school closed and no sports, and he can’t really hang out with his friends. But he’s found a way to focus on something positive.”
Chestnut Hill Hospital’s president and CEO, John Cacciamani, praised the contributions by Louie and others, which “speaks to the generosity and innovation that represents our community and the way they are pulling together to defeat COVID-19.”
Dixieanne James, president and COO of Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, said the efforts are inspiring.