HELENA, Mont. - Due to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) following the global spread of COVID-19, a manager with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Helena Regional Airport (HLN) decided to take action and mobilized a local robotics team to begin making N-95 style face masks and face shields for use by Montana residents who need them.
TSA Manager Mike Ellis has volunteered for about seven years with FUSION, an independent robotics team in Helena whose membership includes teens from local middle and high schools. Over the past two months, eight members of the robotics team have been working to design and produce the hard-to-find PPE.
“My son and I were watching the news and we saw an interview with a doctor in Billings who expressed concern over the shortage of face masks,” TSA’s Ellis said. “We reached out to the doctor who is a neurosurgeon. He provided us a basic mask template and I immediately began working with the students to design and produce reusable, 3-D printed masks.”
The masks, which the students make in three different sizes, take about four hours to print and they can print two at a time. After the printing is complete, students attach elastic straps to each mask. So far, they have made more than 100 N-95 style face masks, spending more than 300 hours producing them.
The N-95 mask design has a center cutout where a filter can be inserted to cover the nose and mouth of the person wearing it. The filter can be replaced, allowing the mask to be sanitized and reused multiple times.
In addition to face masks, the students have designed and printed more than 50 headbands that are used to make clear face shields. Each headband takes about two hours to print and another 45 minutes to fully assemble into a face shield. The students have also designed and printed “ear-savers” that can be worn across the back of the head to make masks with ear loops more comfortable.
“I am extremely proud of the leadership Mike shows daily in his job at TSA in Helena and on his own time to our community through actions like this,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Montana Dan Fevold. “As Montanans, we are proud of his ingenuity, commitment and volunteer spirit.”
FUSION, which is a non-profit organization, has donated the PPE to nurses in the Intensive Care Unit at Saint Peters Hospital in Helena, Heuiser Physical Therapy as well as local Helena dentists. They have also provided masks to The Billings Clinic and the Billings Police Department as well as to families who need them when caring for loved ones who are sick.
FUSION robotics team members (left to right): Bryson Jones, Zack Heller, Miranda Sheafor, Rhett Quinn, Jaret Dushin, Willa Bishop, Jaden Ellis and Kathleen Cook.