Matt Scheuer ’16 (Marine Affairs) had been spending his days experimenting with 3D printers and prototyping robotics when the novel coronavirus crisis struck the eastern United States. Like many, Scheuer – a member of the Somerville, Massachusetts makerspace Artisan’s Asylum – was left wondering how he could support his local health care workers.
“When this whole crisis started, I got to thinking, ‘I have this skillset of rapidly designing things and manufacturing them. What can I do to help?'”
On March 23, the entire makerspace – one of the nation’s largest – converted its entire production chain to manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE) for front line health care workers. Almost overnight, the 500-member center went from its usual wood and metalworking, jewelry-making, 3D-printing, and design capabilities to manufacturing disposable and reusable face shields, pleated medical masks, medical gowns, and other forms of PPE for hospitals in the Boston area.
As part of the effort, Scheuer is overseeing the department laser-cutting face shields to guard health workers against the spread of COVID-19. Since Artists’ Asylum switched its manufacturing focus, the facility has produced more than 11,500 units of PPE, including 8,000 gowns and 3,500 face shields – with thousands more of both currently in production.
Scheuer, who has always had an eye for ingenuity, first learned how to use a laser cutter, and several other advanced manufacturing tools, as one of the first students to benefit from the University of New England’s P.D. Merrill Makerspace.
The space, an innovative laboratory for creation and building that draws ideas from students across the University’s many disciplines, is unique in that it is accessible to all students regardless of their academic discipline – a testament to UNE’s commitment to interprofessional teaching and learning.
In 2016, Scheuer was featured on News Center Maine’s “207” program for his design of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), manufactured in the P.D. Merrill Makerspace, to be used as an underwater drone to evaluate potential dive sites.
“I think the makerspace is one of the coolest, most innovative things that UNE has,” Scheuer said. “That it has the capability to support interdisciplinary projects – from medical innovation to environmental science – is an incredibly valuable resource, and Artists’ Asylum is just an example of what that looks like on a bigger scale.”
For many makers, who have no medical training, the outbreak of COVID-19 has presented a challenge. For Scheuer, it has become a unique opportunity to use the skills he first learned at UNE.
“A lot of people, myself included, felt lost at the beginning of the pandemic. I’m not a doctor or an ambulance driver, so what was there that I could do?” he said. “But, in knowing how to use these technologies and running the laser cutter, I feel like I’m doing something and contributing something real.”