COCHRANE— The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve at a significant pace, and the size of the outbreak is causing a strain on healthcare supplies such as face masks for front line workers.
The use of 3D printing is currently taking the world by storm and is now being used to construct medical supplies when shortfalls begin to occur. A local Cochranite has been closely following the news and has begun to turn to the use of 3D printing to support Albertans during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Luke LaRocque-Walker, is a denturist in Town and although his work is temporarily on hold like many, he is using his time at home to create 3D bias tape makers and ear protectors. LaRocque-Walker said he hopes the supplies will be able to aid healthcare staff or anyone who may require them during the pandemic.
"People are printing face masks they're printing pieces for ventilators, they're printing face shields, they're printing a lot of different things, but I've held off on printing face masks and ventilator parts because I feel the system is going to need to be quite desperate before they start using third party stuff," LaRocque-Walker explained.
A group LaRocque-Walker encountered through Facebook, YYC Mask Makers, is currently assembling reusable, washable face masks and while they most likely will not be used in hospitals they have been getting a demand from the general public and essential workers who are not on the front line.
LaRocque-Walker said he began talking to YYC Mask Makers and they soon realized they could collaborate on a project.
"The issue is you can't get elastic anymore it's gone everywhere," said LaRocque-Walker.
He says his 3D bias tape makers complement the sewn face masks because they can be joint and ironed through the fabric.
"These face masks once you've stitched the bias tape together, you can then just tie them on, rather than having to use elastics," explained LaRocque-Walker. "If these tape makers help people make masks faster then more people can either be protected or prevent spreading of the virus."
LaRocque-Walker is also making ear protectors. He said a mother reached out to him and requested if he could manufacture some. She mentioned her daughter works at the Foothills Medical Centre and her among others are experiencing sore ears after a full day of wearing surgical masks.
"I actually had found a file and started printing some to try it and that's more of what I've been printing now," LaRocque-Walker said.
In the preliminary stages, LaRocque-Walker said he is trying to get himself out there and get his supplies in the hands of those who need them most. He has had a number of people message him on Facebook which he says is great but he is looking to be a bigger help.
He said his goal is to get in touch with some of the hospitals in Calgary and see if there is a demand for supplies he can print.
"If we can get even better connections or say someone works at Foothills or one of the other hospitals and in their unit there's 40 or 50 nurses, doctors and everyone wants one then that's awesome and we can hopefully supply that," he said.
At the moment LaRocque-Walker has two out of his four printers up and running. He explains his slower printers can print nine of the bias tapes makers in about one hour and 15 minutes.
"They are at my office so I'm not there all day, but I have two so I can do 18 every hour and 15 minutes," said LaRocque-Walker. "I could probably pop out 100 a day if I had to, just running back and forth."
A common style of 3D printing that is done is called FDM. LaRocque-Walker compared FDM to a filament.
"Think of it like a hot glue gun. It has this string of plastic and it just heats it and draws out the layers."
This all comes at a cost. With his slower printer, he can make about 90 bias tape makers with one bottle of cheaper dental material which costs him about $60.
LaRocque-Walker also has a higher medical-grade printer that he prints all of his dentures on. He said the printer is much faster and he can print 10 bias tapes in 20 minutes. This 3D printer works with a liquid resin and the material is a little on the higher end costing him roughly $200 a bottle.
"I ordered two more bottles of the denture one and then I ordered six bottles of the cheaper one. Hopefully, that will keep me going for a while," he said.
LaRocque-Walker added he is open to collaboration or if anyone is interested in running the printer while he's busy with his two little children.
"If there's other people with 3D printers in Cochrane that want to help out, then that's great too," he said.
He also has a bin outside of True North Denture on 4th Ave that is housing some of the bias tape makers and ear protectors. He said people can message him or simply take what they need.
It seems the helping hand seems to run in the family as LaRocque-Walker's wife is also keeping herself busy during these unprecedented times. Kaileigh LaRocque-Walker has been making decals for anyone who is interested. She has essential work decals for establishments that need to be open or for cars as well as some Cochrane Strong ones. All of the proceeds Kaileigh makes will then be donated to an organization in Town.
LaRocque-Walker can be reached by email at email@example.com or through Facebook as Luke LaRocque-Walker. To get your hands on a decal reach out to Kaileigh's Kreations on Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org.