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Art professor expands the face shield project beyond 3D printers

face shield
Brian Wiley uses his CNC machine to make in-demand face shields for rural districts. Photo provided by Brian Wiley.

When Boise State’s art department moved into the Center for the Visual Arts in the fall of 2019, professors had to leave some things behind, including old letterpress type made of lead. It doesn’t meet modern safety standards.

Brian Wiley, an associate professor of graphic design, had been experimenting with his computer numerical control (CNC) machine at home, finding ways to carve new letterpress type out of wood when the pandemic hit. Like everyone else, he started hearing news about medical equipment shortages and the efforts – including those in Boise State’s MakerLab and scores of community volunteers – to 3D print face shields.

“I was interested in those shortages. It was hard to believe because some things are simple to make,” said Wiley.

Using modified open source designs, Wiley started making face shields out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) with his CNC machine. Unlike 3D printing, which is an additive process that builds forms out of plastic filament, the CNC uses a reduction process. The machine carves material away from a solid block and is considerably faster than 3D printing. A home 3D printing machine takes about an hour to make a face shield, said Wiley. A CNC machine can make one in about three minutes.

Wiley estimates he’s made around 265 face shields so far – one model built for comfort that caregivers can wear for a 12-hour shift and another model intended for quick-use by first responders. He’s distributed shields to Interfaith Sanctuary, the Star Fire District, the Sun Valley Fire Department, the Cascade Regional Medical Center and Cascade Emergency Medical Services.

Brian Wiley and Krista Niezwaag
Brian Wiley and Krista Niezwaag. Photo provided by Brian Wiley.

Wiley’s sister-in-law, Krista Niezwaag, is a physician assistant and a medical student at the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine in Meridian. She chairs the The Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents. She worked with Wiley to refine the face shield designs to best suit “someone leaning over someone in an ambulance,” she said.

“This is using graphic design for good, for a social justice cause,” she added.

The project has focused on getting equipment to rural districts that have struggled to get personal protective equipment, Niezwaag explained.

“This is a good partnership. ICOM is new (founded in 2016). Boise State is established and has this great reputation,” she said. “We’re bringing ideas together from multiple fields.”

Wiley has called on his advanced graphic design students to help assemble face shield parts. To minimize contact, he leaves materials in his driveway for students to pick up.

“I think it’s extremely important that even though we’re in a time of social distancing, we can still get together to create things in order to help out the community – even if it’s by grabbing a set of sheets from the edge of Brian’s driveway,” said Lanh Russell, a graduating senior. “I think one of the most amazing things about Brian is his willingness to help others around him, whether it’s his students or his community. I’m not surprised he had this on his docket as well.”

– Story by Anna Webb