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Mechanical Engineering student uses 3D printer to create PPE for healthcare workers

Evan with Face Shield sample

Evan Lehr ’20 left the York College of Pennsylvania campus for his home in Montgomery County like many other students did after COVID-19 forced classes to move online. The Mechanical Engineering major spent his days logging into Zoom and completing class projects at home. But when Lehr heard area hospitals were desperate for supplies, he thought he could use his expertise in a more impactful way.

A woman in his neighborhood is a nurse for Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, and Lehr heard they needed face shields. “I had the 3D printer and the supplies,” he says. “All I had to do was find a design online, and I got to work.” In a single day, he could print about a dozen face shields.

He also heard that St. Luke’s Hospital Warren Campus needed disposable stethoscope parts, and he figured out how to make those, too. During the Spring Semester, Lehr made about 500 face shields and several dozen stethoscope parts. When the local hospitals had enough, his friend started sending the personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to other hospitals that needed them.

“I knew that if I was sick in the hospital bed, I would want to know the people taking care of me had everything they needed to do their job,” Lehr says. “It was important to me to help out.”

Hands-on work

Like many in his family, Lehr has always had a strong mechanical inclination. His grandfather is an electrical engineer, his father is an aerospace engineer, and his brother is a civil engineer.

At first, working out of his element away from in-person classes was tough, but creating the PPEs ended up being a way for him to get back to the hands-on work he likes so much. And he found some great support from faculty who heard about what he was doing.

Drew Wilkerson, Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering program, says Lehr is “a go-to guy” for 3D printing parts. He even worked with Lehr to allow him to use his time making the PPE to earn class credits. “I, for one, am very proud of Evan,” Wilkerson says. “He typifies what many of our students do in service to the community.”

The business of 3D printing

Lehr has thought for a long time that he could build a business around 3D printing. During a co-op with Harley-Davidson in Springettsbury Township, York County, he saw just how valuable 3D printing could be for a company. When he was working at the motorcycle plant, Harley-Davidson needed to create a prototype for a new part so they could test it before sending it out for manufacturing.

Lehr was one of two engineers who knew how to use a 3D printer, and he was able to use his printer to help create the part and test it. What could have cost Harley-Davidson several thousands of dollars and about a week of wait time ended up being completed for a few dollars and within a day. Lehr says the plant ended up buying its own 3D printer shortly after.

“I see a lot of potential in taking my 3D printer and helping companies like that create prototypes,” he says. “It’s not only fun for me to create these things, but I see the opportunities it may present in having my own business.”