Photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star
With fellow Mammoth Site employee Kelli Juhl looking on in the background, Business Manager Presston Gabel models one of the 3D printed Montana Masks currently in production at their facility for local healthcare providers.
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – As one of the leading centers for paleontology in all of the world, it should come as no surprise that the staff of The Mammoth Site is accustomed to problem solving.
Recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic consuming everyone’s attention by doing their part to slow its spread, The Mammoth Site decided to refocus their skills and equipment to join the cause.
In a fundraising post on Facebook, Business Manager Presston Gabel said, “During this unprecedented time, we find ourselves looking for ways to help those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, we stopped using the Turner Geospatial Lab for scientific research. Instead, we switched gears to the 3D printing of medical supplies to give to our local Fall River Health Services, as well as the South Dakota State Veterans Home.”
Utilizing their current printing equipment, they are able to produce five masks per day every 16 hours, but with the funds they raised during a Facebook campaign last week to purchase more printers – which netted them even more than the $5,837 they were hoping to raise – they will soon be able to print up 26 more per day.
The 3D printing technology at The Mammoth Site has been in use there for the past two years, after they purchased the equipment to be able to print scaled-up versions, as well as scaled-down versions, of fossils for scientific study. During last fall’s Fossil Fright Night event held in conjunction with Halloween, visitors to the site got to see the 3D printing equipment put to use ‘for fun’ as it was creating miniature plastic mammoths for sale to participants.
A 3D printer essentially works by extruding molten plastic through a tiny nozzle that it moves around precisely under computer control. It prints one layer, waits for it to dry, and then prints the next layer on top.
The masks that The Mammoth Site are now printing and donating to the local health care facilities are called Montana Masks and were invented by a trio of medical professionals from Montana. According to the website www.makethemask.com, The Montana Mask is a highly effective filtration mask. It’s a 3D printable and the design files are currently free for public, not-for-profit use to assist the general public during the current global pandemic related to COVID-19 and the related nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment.
While not intended to replace standard protective equipment such as N-95 masks or surgical masks when that equipment is available, The Montana Masks can be sanitized and reused, which the N-95 mask cannot. Although not approved by the FDA or NIOSH, the mask has been rigorously tested, according to their website.
After downloading the design files and beginning to the print the masks in four different standards sizes, the team at The Mammoth Site then began working together to put the finishing touches on them, which included experimenting with various different ways to make them seal tightly on one’s face.
Kelli Juhl, who is one of the main employees working on the project along with Dr. Sharon Holte, said they tried silicon to begin with, but found that to be too heavy. They’ve since settled on using foam tubing to line the outer edges of the mask and then dip them in Plasti Dip, which is a product most often used to coat the handles of hand tools. Gable said the local Ace Hardware store is selling the Plasti Dip to the site at-cost to help out with the effort.
Dr. Holte said problem-solving is what paleontology is all about, so despite their current effort to make medical masks not necessarily being related to their normal scientific activities, the team at The Mammoth Site is well-suited to get the job done.
“That’s one of the things that I like most about working here,” Dr. Holte said. “We all work together as a team, and problem-solve as a team.”
In addition to the Montana Masks, The Mammoth Site is also hoping to be able to produce eye shield guards for medical professionals to wear as well.
As of last week, Gable said the State Home alone had requested 130 the Montana Masks with Fall River Health Services likely needing even more than that, he said. With the addition of the new 3D printers now on the way after a successful fundraising campaign, The Mammoth Site should be able to meet the need.
“During this crisis, we will be using all of our resources to help our local health care providers and anyone else that needs a face mask or eye shield guard,” Gabel said in their Facebook post last week. “After this pandemic goes away, which it will, these printers will be used by our Educational Department to teach area students and teachers how to use 3D scanners and printer technology.”