UTC and Chattanooga State continue to aid in the fight against COVID-19


COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on the lives of Chattanoogans, and so much of what we’ve seen over the rapidly evolving pandemic has been heroic.

From the long hours put in by health care workers and volunteers, to the way families are creatively sheltering in place–throughout the city, you can find citizens doing what they can to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Prime examples of this “volunteer” and “can do” spirit are the dedicated teams working at Chattanooga State Community College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. 

Earlier this month, Chattanooga State’s Respiratory Care program loaned ventilators to Erlanger Health Systems while the Dental program donated its supply of gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitizer. And the Life Sciences department donated its supply of gloves to the health department.

As the need for face masks increased, Dr. Tremaine Powell, dean of Chattanooga State’s Engineering Technology department, reached out to Public Education Foundation Director Michael Stone, Hamilton County Schools, The Volkswagen Academy, and others to coordinate efforts to print and improve upon Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“The primary project is to print headbands so that face shields can be added to them,” explained Dr. Powell. “The secondary project is to come up with a working N95 mask that can be printed and reused, using various materials.” 

According to Dr. Powell, roughly 230 headbands have been printed and delivered to health care providers around the community. Plans are in place to continue producing the headbands, and Dr. Powell expects that approximately 200 headbands can be completed in a week’s time.

Dr. Powell said a working N95 mask takes approximately three and a half hours to print.

In wake of the severe lack of medical equipment to protect doctors, nurses and others working to control the coronavirus locally, Trevor Elliott, assistant professor for mechanical engineering at UTC, is leading the university’s effort on the massively important project of using 3D printers to help make face shields for Chattanooga health care workers.

“I’m usually working from about 10 at night until 3,” said Elliott.

The job of UTC is to print a part for the face shields–the piece that holds the clear, plastic facemask to the elastic band that wraps around the wearer’s head.

In Elliott’s driveway, five 3D printers sit inside a utility trailer. With each going full speed, they can produce about 10 parts from each, or about 50 per day, he said.

But along with the printing, more than 30 UTC seniors in mechanical engineering are working on creative ways to make respirators and ventilators using off-the-shelf products, Elliott said.

They are also figuring out how to design a version of filtration devices like the N95 mask to fit smaller faces.

“They’re designing them from scratch,” Elliott noted.

Dr. Tremaine Powell, Chattanooga State Engineering and Information Technologies Division dean, demonstrates the 3D printers being used to produce face shield headbands in the fight against COVID-19.