Teaching remotely can be a challenge because it is very project-driven. Jacki Keating teaches business and technology at Rapelje High School and she wanted to motivate her students by using their 3D printers to produce masks for doctors and other medical personnel.

“When Governor Bullock cancelled schools, he kind of left us hanging,” Keating said. “In the meantime, Billings Clinic put out a pattern for a 3D mask they wanted for medical use. I contacted our science teacher because I was at home. She ran up to the school to see if our printers could handle them and we starting printing 3D masks to be used by medical people.”

Keating worked with Abby Schladweiler and Nikki Markle to start printing the mask. Schladweiler is one of her students and Markle is a fellow teacher. Keating said they use a specific computer program to make the masks.

“There is a spool of filament that looks like very thin fishing line,” Keating said. “It heats that filament and it layers it a little bit at a time until it builds a 3D object. The melting part is pretty critical to the 3D mask because once they are done, they are solid. They fit over the nose and the mouth has a grate that comes in and out. That is where a little medical filter goes. We use a heat gun to fit them individually to people so there isn’t any air getting in.”

RiverStone Health Hospice Home in Billings got the first batch of masks. Keating conducted a clinic to show each nurse how to fit and finish their own mask. She said many other people are printing masks in the state.

“The file from Billings Clinic is a public file for 3D printers,” Keating said. “I know there are many teachers in Montana that are printing mask for their community and I am hoping that is also happening across the nation. The story about Billings Clinic 3D masks was on CNN and I think it has gone viral from there. I have heard that even people in Africa are printing.”

Schladweiler and Markle now each have a printer at their house so they can print even faster. Keating said they will continue to produce masks as long as they can.

For more information about 3D masks, Billings Clinic recommends visiting makethemasks.com.