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Northwest Family 3-D Prints Mask Straps for Healthcare Professionals and Community

Northwest Family 3-D Prints Headbands for Healthcare Professionals and Community The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do things. Stay-at-home orders have become commonplace. While we stay home, safe from catching or passing along the virus, many of us can’t, including essential workers and healthcare professionals. Some have taken it upon themselves to help, even while staying at home. Joe Groppe, a freshman at Northwest High School, and his mother, Tammy, are among those people.

Joe and Tammy have been using their 3D printer to manufacture mask straps. Elastic bands on masks were designed to go over the users ears, but when worn for long periods, it becomes uncomfortable. The straps manufactured by Joe and Tammy lets the elastic connect to a plastic band that is adjustable for the user.

“I saw someone else doing it in a Facebook 3D printing group I'm in and showed Joe. I said ‘we can do this.’ The design is from a 3D printing website, and it seems everyone is using the same one. It was approved by the medical field,” Tammy said. 

The decision to create the straps also hits home. 

“My niece, Joe's cousin, is an ICU nurse and works with Covid-19 patients every day. I saw what the masks are doing to all their faces and ears and knew this would help,” she said.

Once the decision was made to create the straps, the duo had to perfect the process.

“The actual printing process took around three days until we got something that produced a good quality at a good speed,” said Joe.

To be specific, it takes two hours and 33 minutes to print 12 straps at once. 

“I believe that the highest amount we produced in a day was around or over 96,” said Joe. “The printer itself runs almost 24/7, minus the time we have to take prints off, change filament, or maintain the machine.”

The bands have been printing nearly non-stop since early April. Once word got out about the bands, they have received literally thousands of orders.

“One person asked for a thousand just for them, but we said we couldn't do that many based on time. We have received orders from Hawaii and Maryland and then a ton from our area and the St. Louis area,” Tammy said. 

With that many orders going out, finding the time to make the bands is demanding. 

“Between me and my mom, the time going into the bands is around four to five hours on average. Some days, it may be higher depending on if I have to maintain or fix something on the printer,” Joe said. “The big thing is overnight. Since a print goes on for right around two hours and 40 minutes, it has to be manually restarted. This means that someone has to get up every three hours overnight to keep the process going.”  

Joe added that the time aspect has made the band project a family affair. 

“While my mom and I are the ones running the operation, both my dad and my brother have pitched in, helping count out bands, or helping to keep the printer running by getting up in the night.”

Tammy said the bands have been distributed locally, as well as the St. Louis metropolitan area, including hospitals and nursing homes.

“I know for sure Children's Hospital, St. Luke's, St. Clare, Mercy, Barnes, Friendship Village Nursing Home, St. Mary's, Marymount Manor, Parc Provence, and Christian Hospital. Also some delivery drivers and I dropped some off at the House Springs Post Office for the ladies that work there.”

The creation of the bands costs money for the filament alone, not to mention the wear and tear on the printer. Although the Groppe family undertook the project as a donation and a contribution to the first responders and healthcare workers, donations have begun to come in to help offset the costs of manufacturing the bands.

“We were asked by others if they could pay, so we did take donations just to help cover costs of buying new filament,” said Tammy. “Depending on the filament, it can be $25 a roll and up.”

The reaction of the recipients has made the project worth it. Joe said that the people who have received their bands have been wonderful. 

“They have all been very excited to recieve their bands, and we have received a few thank you cards in the mail,” he said. 

Tammy added “We are so grateful for all the nurses, doctors, cleaning staff, essential workers. So to have them thank us for this little thing does make you feel good.”

Tammy said that they are not manufacturing the bands for recognition, only to help.

“Even doing this interview makes both of us a little uncomfortable. We really are not doing anything extraordinary. There was a need, and we could help, so we are,” she said. “We are in this together and we need to help anyway we can.”

Joe added, “Truthfully I'm not sure if my friends even know I'm doing this. It's not a big deal to me if they do or don't. The whole idea was to help people, not receive recognition for it. The bands are meant to help people who need it.”

Tammy said that giving back to the community is important. “If anyone stops and thinks about it, there is always a way to help the community. The little things add up,” she said.

While people continue to work in their essential positions, whether it is at a post office, nursing home, or hospital, hundreds and hundreds can now do it with a little more comfort thanks to the generosity of the Groppe family.