Columbia University librarian kickstarts 3D printing production of protective face shields

face shield production
Columbia librarian Madiha Choksi used the 3D printer to make her prototype (right) before scaling up production at the 92nd Street Y (left). (Photos courtesy of Madiha Choksi)

As COVID-19 spread further into New York City, Madiha Choksi knew she couldn’t sit back and do nothing. Little did she know, Choksi would end up producing hundreds of face shields in a matter of weeks.

Choksi works as a librarian at Columbia University and also runs the 3D printing program at the library. On March 19, Choksi received an email that put her face shield production into motion.

“I got an email from Dr. Pierre Elias from New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He mentioned how there’s a shortage of PPE equipment for hospital staff,” said Choksi. “He attached some crowdsource files of protective face shields and asked me if I could 3D print some prototypes.”

Choksi got right to work. She reached out to Columbia University’s Provost to see if she could gain access to the 3D printing lab. Seeing how urgent the need for face shields, on March 20 Choksi not only received permission to use the lab, but she was allowed to bring 2-3 printers home to do the work.

“I had all the supplies in hand and by Friday evening I have 5 prototypes in hand,” said Choksi. “I sent them over to Dr. Elias to test out. He came back to me a day later and asked me how many of these I can produce.”

The face shield that Choksi produced is reusable and washable, and the materials used have already been approved by the National Institute of Health. Choksi began to reach out on social media looking for more 3D printers to use. 

Through her outreach, Choksi made two very important connections: Tangible Creative, a 3D printing startup, and MakerBot, a manufacturer of 3D printers.  They came together to form COVID MAKER RESPONSE (CMR) – Choksi streamlined the design to make printing the face shields more efficient and sent them to the two companies to help print out the face shields.

Before she knew it, Choksi’s apartment was full of face shields. She knew she had to upgrade her space to continue to produce the face shields, which ultimately lead her to the 92nd Street Y.

“By March 25 I had over 400 face shields in my apartment,” said Choksi. “I didn’t have enough people on hand to help produce the face shields. I reached out to a friend of mine who that same day connected me to Chris Bynum, the Director of Operations at the 92nd Street Y.”

Choksi and her team of volunteers at CMR were set up in the 92nd Street Y by March 26 and have been working from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day since to produce more face shields for those who need them.

“I haven’t had a break since March 19 when this all started,” said Choksi.

CMR is collecting donations to support Tangible Creative’s labor and material costs. Donations can be made directly on their website, covidmakerresponse.com.

“We are infinitely grateful for our team of volunteers. None of this would have been possible without them or support from Columbia Libraries, Tangible Creative or MakerBot,” said Choksi. “We’re trying to make things happen quickly and fill in gaps where we can, and we rely on donations to be able to do so.”

So far, CMR has produced masks for Bronx Lebanon Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, St. Charles Hospital, Washington Heights Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. If your hospital or medical center is in need of masks, you can visit covidmakerresponse.com to fill out an intake form.