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 In the year 2020

12 May 2020

Sj appeal for funding [ ♉   see my last blog entry about her ] was sufficiently successful for her to be able to go out and garner new supplies of filament so they can continue production of PPE.

  Don't worry, this isn't all ours!

Sj tells us:

Don't worry, this isn't all ours! I coordinated a joint order between us, another local school, and two maker-spaces and now we have filament!
So much filament!
Toner Plastics managed to turn the order around for us in two days so off to Springfield to fetch it on Friday and then I spent yesterday sorting it.
Because it was a giant joint order we were able to buy cases of 11 different colors - I think it goes without saying that it was necessary to reorganize the boxes so that everyone got a rainbow!

   I coordinated a joint order between us, another local school, and two maker-spaces and now we have filament!

  So much filament!

  I think it goes without saying that it was necessary to reorganize the boxes so that everyone got a rainbow!

So, so, so many thanks to those of you who donated to our cause, we should be set for awhile now.   ♉   Click here to see how to donate

I'm assuming that all of you know that if you or someone you know needs face shields of ear saver comfort bands, all you have to do is tell me and we will get them to them. You know that right? Just checking. (This goes for those of you who aren't local too.)

9 May 2020
Pond life

Every day I go and have look at what is happening in our pond, the tadpoles are growing and eating the algae and other small bits of weed and odd insects are appearing now and again. Here are a few pics of what has turned up in the last few days and has hung around long enough for me to photograph them.

   the tadpoles are growing

  What my dad would have called a 'gouse'

  Definately a gouse.

  Water boatman.

  Fake wasp.

5 May 2020
PPE: Running out of raw materials from sj

  Running out of raw materials.

Many folk have asked sj how they can contribute to her efforts to produce PPE. The answer isn't quite as simple as one might think.

from sj:    Turns out that as far as school is concerned face shield making falls into a murky gray area. They are 100% in support of it, but they don't have a way to handle donations for it as it isn't a school project, and they don't want me publicly asking for donations because it uses school equipment. So it is a potential conflict of interest.
I do have permission to accept personal donations from my friends and family, but anything beyond that they are uncomfortable with. So we can accept money from those of you who offered to give us money but I guess I have to be careful not to spread it to the wider community. It is unfortunate that red tape and red filament aren't the same thing.
Regardless, my coworker Mike has a paypal set up that can accept donations. So if any of you do want to contribute to our 3D printed PPE efforts you can paypal us money at this address:
For those of you who are Luddites like me, we can also take checks. PM me for my address.
No guarantees that we will buy the color filament you want but you can leave us color suggestions. Also, we just found out that we can buy 22lb spools of elastic from the same company (toner plastics) for $200. So that's happening!


Emily BaneCare:
Nice People of Newburyport
Shoutout to Ms. L and the students of Newburyport High School for their thoughtful and generous donation of 1500 protection mask bands to our skilled nursing facilities across the state. Our hearts are deeply touched by the kindness of you, your students, and MakeIt Labs
. — with Lynne Farrell

Back to sj:    I just had an amazing conversation with a local (Massachusetts) filament maker. They are going to sell me spools for $12.38 each (which is amazing, spools usually cost $20-30 each). They're about a 2 hour drive away from me so I'm just going to drive out and pick it all up so I don't have to pay for shipping (I might borrow one of the giant vans that we have at school).

Liz:    Tell us if you need “spool sponsors”!

sj:    I'm all on board with spool sponsors, though I'm guessing they are each going to want to sponsor a particular color.

Sarah:    I'll only support blue. Maaaaybe green in a pinch

Sj:    Mike and I are sorting out how people can get money to us for this and should have a plan later this afternoon.

Liz:    yes let me know as well
Amy:    I can sponsor some as well.

sj    that would be amazing, thank you. I just posted about how to do it (because bureaucracy). the short version is pay pal to Morse.mike@comcast.net

sj:   The filastruder is basically heartbreaking. It works well enough that I don't want to give up on it, but not well enough to be useful. It has to be watched like a hawk which is not a thing I can reasonably do (what with also having a real job), and even then it is only managing 6-12ft lengths before it messes up which aren't really long enough to print anything useful.

  The filastruder is basically heartbreaking.

Conny:   Oh no!
Benjamin:    Time to readdress. Maybe vertical? The filament maker here in town sends the stuff straight into a water bath then coils.

sj:   There is a filament maker in Hudson? Do you know the name of the company? And we bought a few things to try to cool it faster, but there are a lot of variables and at the end of the day we want filament, not to make filament so I am leary of throwing too much good money after bad when I could instead just use that money to buy filament.

Paula:    That sucks. I hear they are fussy.
Chris:    with a name like that why not repurpose it to make fish burgers?
Andrew:    plastic extrusion process is highly temp/pressure dependent; do you have any sort of preheating to increase uniformity? Is the filament snapping because you are pulling too hard at the spooling end?

sj:    Wow, talk about distractable. I opened a blank email over an hour ago and since then I've graded work, emailed a parent, texted the rwdc team to find out their tshirt sizes, updated the sailbot website to show that it is cancelled, emailed the camp director of the place we planned to host to see if we can have it there next year instead. Basically I am completely scatter brained, and overwhelmed with things I have to do coming at me from every angle.

But I figured that you would all want a filament update. So let's talk about plastic.

First, I too love perspex, although we call it acrylic here. It's pretty delightful stuff, and one of the main things we cut on the laser. I think Poppa would be very pleased with the number of things I use it for on a regular basis (although i am going to shock you and tell you that it is not without flaws as a material - laser cutting it results in micro fractures. also it is prone to shattering, but I still like the stuff)

Oh hey I got distracted again, graded a few advanced robotics things, posted a new assignment, another parent email, made a google form, and a phone call for tech support from one of the teacher friends.

Anyway back to talking about plastic. For printing we mostly use PLA (polylactic acid), it is a bioplastic made out of corn. As a result it is actually compostable (in industrial composters, not in your garden compost). This makes me feel a lot less guilty about the amount of it we use, and the amount of failed parts we have.

I've been able to have Abe help me with this project, his housemate has been away since the start of march and he hadn't even been to the grocery store in 2 weeks, so we figured we were safe expanding our social bubbles to include each other.

This was good as I probably would have hurled the filastruder into the lake in a fit of rage without him there. That machine and I have never gotten along, and that hasn't changed. Needless to say it has all sorts of problems, we got it to extrude filament but unless you watch it like a hawk it is liable to mess up, and we were struggling to get pieces longer that 6-12ft from it (never mind a whole spool which is about 250 meters). So needless to say even disregarding the fact that we can't get it to a consistent diameter, we can't get a long enough piece out to print something.

  I probably would have hurled the filastruder into the lake in a fit of rage without him there.

There are lots of reasons why, basically it comes out molten, but the auger isn't quite consistent enough in what it pushes through, you then try to cool it as fast as possible. but you can't cool it the very second it clears the nozzle so it has a second or two of being essentially liquid so you want to make sure that the pull on it doesn't change, but it does change because gravity plays on it and you only have so much room before it hits the floor, and then so much room until it runs out of room on the floor and stops traveling forward or starts to spool, and all of these little things change the pull on it and cause breaks.
Abe tried to make us a winder for it that we could control the speed of but it didn't have enough of a slow range, and once the spool gets weight on it from the filament the motor wasn't strong enough to move it at slow speeds, and since the auger isn't consistent a constant speed on the motor doesn't help us anyway and if you look away for a moment it messes up, so really some sort of feedback mechanism is required and here we run into the next problem.

I don't want to be able to make filament, I want filament. So we could probably solve these issues, but it would take weeks of work and fiddling, and some investment, and really we just want filament because we have a very real right now problem. And while I could throw money at the problem, it isn't the problem I want to fix so it makes more sense to instead throw money at the real problem.

At least I had fun CADing and printing some parts (an adapter for the winder to mount a spool on the motor, and a larger hopper for the raw plastic)

I'll attach some pictures, we tried it first on the table, and then on an incline, and then a straight gravity drop. You can see Abe showing the filastruder what he thinks of it. Two solid days of work and it just isn't reliable. Also it is heart breaking, as soon as you add color (which is what makes it fun), it gets even less consistent.

  At least I had fun CADing and printing some parts

  We tried it first on the table, and then on an incline.

  You can see Abe showing the filastruder what he thinks of it.

2 more emails and a bunch of texts later

Fortunately this morning I got a fantastic phone call. I sent a bunch of emails last week trying to find a place to get a deal on filament and today I got a call from a local(ish) company to say that they would sell me spools for $12.38 each (spools usually cost $20-$30 each). They're about 100 miles from here (2 hr drive each way) so I'm just going to place a big order, and drive to get them to save on shipping.

And on that note, I have to run out to fetch a couple of rolls someone locally has and bring them to mike as he is all out of spares. I have to (virtually) attend a school board meeting tonight to talk about everything we are doing, hoping it will lead to some donations so that I can afford a whole car-ful of filament.

Alex:    I'm completely in awe of what you are doing Sj. Huge congratulations for setting up something so useful and needed.
Ironic that grand/father instilled in us a love of plastic (ICI was God and Perspex the miracle product, which I still believe today!)
I've not seen this film yet but intend to check it out ♉Story of plastic

Carry on carrying on everybody...

1 May 2020
PPE update from sj

Back in mid April we reported on how sj and colleagues had re-purposed their high school's 3D printers to go into production of PPE for local hospitals and health centers.

Below are extracts from her heart felt emails to me and her fb posts, you can read the whole story so far ♉   here

In the last month, we (meaning myself and two of my coworkers) have delivered 718 face shields, 170 ventilator splitters, and 2,313 ear savers.

Accomplishing this feat has required us to run a 3D printer farm 24/7 for weeks. Indeed not only are our 7 Prusas now running 24/7 printing visors for face shields, we've also managed to get our 3 older makerbots contributing to the effort by printing ear savers during waking hours (their beds aren't as large as the prusas, and we don't really trust them with a longer print job, so those are basically running in areas where someone can quickly switch over a print job every hour and a half or so).

Needless to say with all this printing we have used a ton of filament, approximately 48 rolls, most of which came out of my storage closet (because I am a hoarder). Fortunately my administration has been supportive of our efforts and have no problem with us repurposing the lab and all of those school supplies that way (I think I will refrain from giving them a $ amount for that many rolls of filament however).

Unfortunately it's one thing to talk about printing our way through all of the supplies in the lab and another to realize that we've actually done it. Mike (who is the one doing the actual printing) sent me a photo of our remaining filament this morning. And as someone who knows what my filament supply used to look like, the image is wrenching. We no longer have enough filament to resupply each of our printers.


And of course, because I'm me, I'm on to that, and in the most ridiculous way.

Years ago, when filament was harder to buy and significantly more expensive, I convinced my school to buy me a filastruder, a little $200 device (ok fine, kit, I'm not smart enough to pay more for something that comes pre-assembled) that basically melts down raw plastic and extrudes it into filament. I could write a whole diatribe about my struggles with this device. I don't even know how many times I've assembled it only to have it tear itself apart and need to be disassembled and reassembled again. Needless to say when filament dropped in price and became more readily available I dumped said device on a shelf in the darkest reaches of my storage closet and pledged never to touch it again.

Earlier this week I rescued it (and a box of plastic pellets) from said closet and delivered it to Abe, who did the impossible. He assembled it! and got it working! He extruded a few yards of it and successfully printed a few things, so we will send it to Mike for a real test. The dimensional accuracy of the stuff is terrible, so Abe has started building a spooling device (if it gets pulled through at a constant speed it will reduce the variations in width, and then in theory we can fine tune the device to a speed that results in an optimal filament thickness). Earlier this evening I designed an adapter to attach an empty spool to a motor and as I type this that part is printing.

If all goes well I will hopefully be able to go into filament production this weekend. But even that is just a stop gap. I have about 50lbs of plastic pellets and when that's gone, I'm going to try to convince Abe to build me a shredding machine so we can recycle failed parts (he's a robot guy, robot guys love building dangerous robots).

And when we've done that? Then what? Real filament is getting harder to buy and prices are increasing. If I could find a place to buy PLA pellets, in theory we could just keep making our own, but it's not exactly ideal. In my dreams I find a local manufacturer that has a pile of the stuff that fell off the truck, a drop in the bucket to an industrial manufacturer would be an unbelievable quantity to us.

Because here's the thing (and this is where the feelings come in).

This was supposed to be a short term operation, a stop gap to fill a void until manufacturing and delivery of real PPE came online. But the need isn't dissipating, rather it's increasing. Those numbers I gave you, that's just us, me and two of my coworkers who have divided up the labor for this operation between us (Mike prints, Don assembles and delivers, I sort logistics, shake trees, and find us resources and materials). I'm spending enough hours on this on a daily basis that this has basically turned into a second full time job.

We've partnered with another local school, and with one of the bigger makerspaces, and each of those entities are seeing the same kind of demand we are. All around the state, all around the country, all around the world, there are high school engineering teachers, and makers doing exactly the same thing. And while we're rapidly running out of materials, the emailed requests keep coming fast and furious.

And the e-mails, they're heart breaking.

Absolute desperation, followed by profound gratitude when we drop off a package of face shields and ear savers. We're delivering these things to major medical facilities: Hospitals (Anna Jaques, Portsmouth, Salem, Lawrence General, Beverly, Lahey Burlington, Beth Israel), medical offices, cancer centers, nursing homes, and there's no end in sight.

And this is what gets me, we are a high school engineering program. Nobody should want stuff being made in a high school lab with the kind of equipment and materials that a public high school can afford to provide. These places should be laughing in our face. They should be patting us on the head and telling us that it is cute that we want to help but that they have it under control. They should be telling us that they have plenty of PPE, and that the stuff they have is way better quality than anything we can provide and it's really nice that we're willing to help, but it isn't necessary.

Instead I'm getting e-mails that make me want to cry from nurses who have little more than surgical masks. These emails are so hopeful, and so desperate, and once we deliver a package of supplies they are so overjoyed and grateful. I've been called an angel and a miracle worker. I am none of these things. I am a high school engineering teacher with a lab of consumer level 3D printers, and it really really bothers me that in one of the richest countries in the world, this is the best that we have to offer our health care workers.

  This is NOT ok.

If you can't tell, that last sentence embodies a whole lot of feelings. I want to scream, I want to cry, and I desperately, desperately want to fix it.
I don't ever want to have to respond to one of those emails by telling someone that we don't have anything for them.
So we will keep printing, and I will keep trying to solve one impossible problem at a time.

On Sat, May 2, 2020 at 11:20 AM Chris Leadbeater wrote:

well done to you sj ... but ...what are ear savers btw and if i had a dozen would i be able hear any better????

as you say This is NOT ok. and its not. i won't rant about our pathetic 'government' either as its not good for my blood pressure.

From: sj:
Sent: Sat, 2 May 2020 18:42

The picture below is of an ear saver (the first one made with homemade filament). Apparently rather than attaching behind your head, most medical masks attach to your ears. While this is fine for short periods of time, when you're wearing a mask all day long for weeks and weeks at a time, apparently they start to chafe the backs of your ears and they hurt to wear. So this silly little plastic strap basically goes behind your head and you attach the mask to it instead of to your ears. Thus rendering the whole thing less painful.

  a silly little plastic strap

Also, did you see Mike's time lapse printer assembly video?

On Saturday, May 2, 2020, Chris Leadbeater wrote:
ahh thanks sj i have seen pics of NHS workers at the end of their shifts with facial bruising from the PPE.
they are just about coping now but i fear the next peak they will be exhausted.

but well done you... keep it up ...

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