Piedmont College Art Professor Helps First Responders Using 3-D Printing

Demorest - Like most people, Chris Kelly watches the news on the television and keeps up with events on the web. And, like most people, he wants to do something, but is told to stay put.

But Kelly, a professor and Chair of Piedmont’s Art Department, found a way. Through an online user group, he learned that some of his colleagues were finding innovative ways to use the 3-D printers in their laboratories in the fight against COVID-19.

In particular, some were using them to manufacture face shields for healthcare workers. The clear shields and surgical masks are worn by doctors and nurses when treating patients with a contagious disease. And they are in high demand.

Kelly drove nine miles to his deserted on-campus FabLab (a learning space that includes six 3-D printers and a laser cutter), found a box of unused overhead projector sheets, and began experimenting.

“I thought, ‘I can do this and this is something I might be able to do to help.’”

He ran the idea by Dr. Julie Behr, Dean of Piedmont’s R.H. Daniel School of Nursing and Health Sciences, and President James F. Mellichamp. Both gave the project an enthusiastic thumbs up, and Mellichamp coordinated the college’s efforts with Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville). Rogers contacted local health officials to determine where the face shields were needed.

Mellichamp said the project is permissible under the state’s recent shelter-in-place order. The first batch of 20 were picked up by the Habersham Emergency Management Agency Thursday. Chad Black, Director of Habersham County Emergency Services, said the shields will be distributed to first responders (firefighters and paramedics).

“This effort illustrates the cooperative spirit that exists between private organizations and our state and county officials,” said Mellichamp. “In particular, I would like to thank Representative Rogers for his efforts to get the face shields where they are most needed.”

Kelly said it takes about two hours to print a single face shield, which can be cleaned and reused. He figures he can make 20 shields a day as long as they are needed and the overhead projector sheets don’t run out.

“I bet I could get more of that if I asked our faculty,” he said. “I would probably be inundated with it.”

Beyond staying at home and teaching his online classes, Kelly is grateful for having found a way to help, even if it’s in a small way.

“What I am doing may be a small help to our medical community,” he said, “but it’s a big help to me.”

Photo provided by Piedmont College