Marco Island Academy junior Johnny Watt has already proven himself capable on the basketball court, helping to lead the Rays to a conference championship this season. Now, the energetic junior is working with classmates to 3D print masks for medical professionals in the community. And like he does on the basketball court; Johnny is running full speed with the project. Except this time his teammates aren’t basketball players, but fellow students at the academy who are pouring over 3D printers and carefully assembling complicated N95 medical masks.
Johnny’s mother, Jane Watt, Chairperson of the MIA Board of Directors, suggested the project to her son.
“My mom presented me with the idea that we could potentially print 3D masks and there would be people willing to donate 3D printers to do that,” explained Johnny Watt. “They just needed people to carry out the process.”
James and Glenda Bertelsmeyer, Dinos and Marianne Iordanou, along with Mark and Michelle Melvin stepped up to provide the 3D printers—which cost around $3,000 each.
Johnny Watt received the first 3D printer and set about learning the process so he could then teach his classmates. Tyler and Colby Chute, along with Matthew and Nicholas Vergo, are Watt’s teammates in the project; they share his technological bent.
“I had to learn to use it by myself,” Johnny stated. “It wasn’t too difficult to learn. I read through the manual, then watched a couple of tutorials on YouTube and pieced it together from there. I’m pretty good with figuring out technology stuff. I became kind of the supervisor for the other people, too. I was the first one to get it and learn how to use it. We have two other printers going now.”
The N95 masks are not simple masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider them critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.
Building the masks is a painstaking and time-consuming process. As Johnny Watt explained, “Essentially, it takes a spool of material, in this case, a nylon or plastic, and takes it into a nozzle that heats it up and then goes over hundreds of layers and places layers of melted plastic on top of each other until it makes an object.”
It takes hours for the printer to create the mask parts. Then the masks need to be assembled.
“It probably takes, for everything to get done, about 15 hours per mask. It’s a little bit of a process. The big mask piece, that takes about 12 hours to do. But the more you do in a row, the faster it will get; because it’s learning it. If you do a lot of the big mask pieces in a row, then you can print the other pieces much quicker. Those are a lot easier to print. Once you get a number of the big pieces printed, you can print out the other pieces pretty quick and put the masks together.”
In the Chute home, Colby is leading the charge.
“Colby is heading up the project here,” said Tricia Chute. “Colby’s working the 3D printer and Tyler has been helping with the assembly of the masks.”
Johnny Watt is finding the project to be enjoyable.
“It’s kind of fun,” he said. “It’s kind of cool. You just have to get it started, then you check on it. It’s pretty cool how it makes an object. There’s a template that I’m using. There’s three different pieces. So I have to print out three different pieces, then add in a filter, then put it together then add the straps.”
So far, 15 masks have been completed. Things are getting a little easier as the students gain experience.
“It definitely has become quicker as the other kids and I get more comfortable with the process and all three of us producing at the same time,” Johnny Watt said.
Some masks have already been delivered to the proper medicinal specialists.
“We’ve distributed three masks to people in the medical profession,” Johnny Watt said. “I couldn’t give them to them directly, so I had to leave them in their mailboxes.”
The masks are delivered with a disclaimer letter explaining that while great care is taken in developing the masks, they are not approved by the FDA or NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
Jane Watt is justifiably proud of the work her son and his classmates are doing as she gleefully stated, “I am beyond proud of Johnathan and all the students—and families—who are involved in this 3D mask project. Each mask takes hours to complete and requires significant attention to detail. I am also overwhelmed by the willingness of these students to dedicate their time to make the masks. The students were eager and willing to help.
“Our students, like most across the country, have had to adjust their learning style to embrace online coursework and independent time management to complete their homework. These kids are so kind and generous to give their time to help others. They inspire me to want to do more for them.”