St. John’s University professor sets up 3D print farm at home to donate PPE to Queens hospitals

PPE Mask complete
Photo courtesy of St. John’s University

It took no time for Max Hergenrother, director of Technology Operations of The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies at St. John’s University, to pack up as many 3D printers he could fit into his car to take home and get to work building face shields for medical workers at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis in Queens.

“At St. John’s, if we’re able to help, it happens,” Hergenrother said. “It’s the Vincentian mission. St. Vincent de Paul was about helping people who are most in need — and the most pressing need now, I think, is our medical services. They’re the ones helping stem the crisis that’s going on. If we can help them, we can help all of us.”

Hergenrother has worked in several different capacities at St. John’s for 20 years, including as an adjunct professor for the Department of Art and Design as well as running 3D printing courses and seminars. 

Shortly after the university implemented remote working due to the coronavirus outbreak, Hergenrother figured out that by using the university’s equipment from home in Glen Head, NY, he could help alleviate at least some of Queens hospitals’ need for personal protective equipment (PPE).

The husband and father of two then set up the printing farm in one of his spare rooms, with a total of six printers that run for 24 hours a day, everyday.

Photo courtesy of St. John’s University

Hergenrother decided to create validated, semi-disposable face shields. The face shields are made of a semicircle clear plastic that covers an individual’s entire face and is adjustable with a buttonhole elastic band.

Although these aren’t replacements for face masks, they are an added safety measure for the medical workers risking their lives to treat the hundreds of thousands COVID-19 patients in Queens.

“This is a real grassroots effort from makers in the community,” Hergenrother said.

There’s a lot of organizing and planning that goes into the making of the face shields — especially with two kids who Hergenrother and his wife are guiding through remote learning while they take care of their own work remotely.

“It is a juggle but it’s a worthwhile juggle,” he said.

He began by assembling 175 face shields a week, and is now up to 250 a week. Hergenrother said there will soon be another design that will make it easier to build and will boost up production to 400 a week.

The face shields are going to NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital and have been distributed to other Queens hospitals through their own distribution chain. St. John’s University previously donated 186,000 medical gloves, 500 disposable lab coats, 100 surgical masks and 20 protective face shields to New York Presbyterian-Queens Hospital.

After Fox News featured St. John’s and Hergenrother’s efforts, he’s already received offers to expand the printing farm and work with organizations to mass produce the face shields.

Photo courtesy of St. John’s University

However, what he’s most in need of at the moment are buttonhole elastic bands, being that supply is limited.

Hergenrother emphasizes that if anyone has these supplies and wants to donate them, they can mail them to St. John’s University — located on 8000 Utopia Parkway in Jamaica — and he’ll keep up the work.

When asked whether there might be surplus of this kind of equipment, Hergenrother said he isn’t worried about that.

“That’s not going to happen any time soon,” Hergenrother said. “The more, the better off the medical workers are and the more effectively they can work. So I’m going to keep running full steam ahead.”