News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 6, 2020
Haystack’s Fab Lab makes 4,000 face shields
And gives them away

McHenna Martin

McHenna Martin builds a 3D printer, then eats Gummi Bears as stated in the instructions.

Photo by Leslie Landrigan Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Leslie Landrigan

When Fab Lab employee McHenna Martin opened a box of 3D printer parts recently, she was confused when a bag of Gummi Bears dropped out. Martin, who enters Deer Isle-Stonington High School as a senior this fall, planned to assemble the 3-D printer to increase face shield production. Already, the Fab Lab had made 4,000 face shields since March, and has orders to make another 500, James Rutter, Haystack’s Fab Lab director, said in a July 30 interview.

The Gummi Bears were actually supposed to come with the 3D printer. The instruction manual told Martin to eat one every time she completed a step in assembling the 3D machine—a process she called a “nightmare.”

“But it’s a fun nightmare,” she said in an interview.

The Fab Lab isn’t only producing face shields, Rutter said, but helping student employees develop technical and digital skills. “It gives kids choices, and it exposes them to a lot of different things in a compelling and interesting way,” he said.

Plus, he said, “They’re involved in a project that has a real-world impact.”

The Fab Lab hasn’t produced quite as many as the 66,200 face shields General Motors has, according to the company website. Then again, the Fab Lab isn’t GM. It’s Rutter, McHenna, Rylee Eaton—another Deer Isle-Stonington senior—and 3-D printers and laser cutters,all operating out of a former barn.

Trying to keep up

“We’re trying to keep up with various organizations that request them,” Rutter said. Those include the Town of Surry, George Stevens Academy, the Maine Maritime Academy, the Healthy Island Project as well as private physicians and their patients.

Rutter started fabricating the face shields in March when a Brooksville writer named Jill Day decided to make them at home. She turned to Haystack for help cutting the plastic, thus jumpstarting what Haystack now calls the COVID-19 PPE Project.

Rutter thought he’d be making face shields through the summer, but now it looks as if the project will go on indefinitely, he said. It has had financial help from the Maine Community Foundation and various local donors. Someone who orders five face shields might give them $20, Rutter said. Haystack employs the students.

From face shields the project expanded to ear savers, adjustable hooks used behind the head to hold the elastic straps on face masks that otherwise cause discomfort. Rutter is also looking into making child-sized face shields and possibly desk shields for classrooms.

The young employees are also learning life lessons, like how to motivate yourself to do something difficult with small treats along the way.

When Martin finished threading cables through a sleeve, she exclaimed, “Now it’s time for Gummi Bears.”