Strengthening the present. Building the future.

IACMI Supports Production of 50,000 Face Shields for University of Tennessee Students, Faculty and Staff

When students, faculty and staff returned to the University of Tennessee (UT) campus in Knoxville for the beginning of the fall semester in August as many as 50,000 uniquely designed protective face shields were ready for distribution to help provide an extra layer of defense against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.    

University of Tennessee (UT) Assistant Professor of Architecture Maged Guerguis, left, and IACMI Chief Technology Officer Uday Vaidya display the UT Shield in the IACMI-supported Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility on the UT campus in Knoxville. 

“Multiple university and community partners worked together in a short amount of time to bring 50,000 face shields from conception to distribution,” said UT Chancellor Donde Plowman. “The shields have been made available throughout campus since students, faculty and staff returned to campus as one more level of protection in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.”  

The face shield, called UT Shield, is a unique design by Maged Guerguis, assistant professor of Architecture and McCarty Holsaple McCarty Endowed Professor at UT’s College of Architecture and Design. Guerguis is also the director of Soft Boundaries a multidisciplinary research laboratory investigating the intersections of architecture, engineering and science. 

Steel rule dies were used by UT engineering students to shear cut the PETG rolls into the face shields in the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility and Engineering Annex.

“I designed the face shield to improve safety and provide comfort for the health care professionals working long hours fighting at the front lines of the pandemic, and I’m honored that it also is being used across campus to help our Volunteer community stay healthy,” Guerguis said. The clear visor is spaced with maximum clearance from the face to allow for glasses or medical equipment to be worn comfortably. The shield weighs only two ounces, assembles in five seconds, doesn’t require an elastic band and includes ergonomic end tips. Hundreds of UT Shields were donated to area medical professionals over the summer. 

The 50,000 shields for the UT campus have been produced under the guidance of UT professor Uday Vaidya of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering. Vaidya is the UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composite Manufacturing and also serves as the chief technology officer for the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, IACMI—The Composites Institute.   

IACMI and its 150 nationwide members and partners from industry, academic institutes and government agencies are working in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerate post-crisis recovery efforts through coordination, communication, and manufacturing assistance. 

Vaidya said discussions began in summer with the UT administration to produce the face shields for the university. He said delivering such a large quantity prior to the start of the fall semester was no small task and praised the teamwork from the chancellor’s office, UT Research Foundation, Tickle College of Engineering and College of Architecture and Design as well as IACMI partners to bring 50,000 face shields from conception to distribution in such short order.   

“It all happened so suddenly and everyone came together quickly,” he said. “Our extended network— people we work with that do everything from fabric work, injection tooling, injection molding, thermo forming—were energized and eager to help. We are fortunate that we have the teamwork and the IACMI network in place to respond so quickly.”  

Maged Guerguis wears the UT Shield along with a cloth face covering in the classroom. His current research focuses on the development of high-performance integrated construction systems using large-scale additive manufacturing, digital fabrication, novel materials, and advanced computational design methods. (Source: UT College of Architecture + Design)

IACMI Network Enabling Partners to Combat COVID 

Since the pandemic began, Vaidya said IACMI has been utilizing its advanced materials and manufacturing experience and network to help produce the UT face shields to combat the coronavirus. 

In fact, in March, Vaidya began coordinating a university–wide effort to produce headband portions of face shields for health care workers, tapping into an engineering faculty and student team and the many maker spaces and labs on campus with 3D printers. 

“Obviously, we could not support making 50,000 face shields before the start of the semester with 3D printing alone,” Vaidya said, noting that even the fastest 3D printer would take up to 30 minutes to produce a single shield headband. “With solid fiscal and administrative backing from the UT chancellor’s office, our team focused on materials and processing and used our know-how for injection molding to design tooling. IACMI’s investments and assets came into play in a major way in production of the shields.”  

Guerguis agreed, adding that switching to injection molding and having a new custom-made tool allowed the team to produce two headbands in less than five seconds. “It’s not only faster, but it also produces a superior quality finished product,” he said.

Logical Choice for Frame Color: UT Orange  

A two-cavity tool – capable of producing two parts per mold shot – was quickly designed and test frames were produced in black color. But Vaidya said the frames were quickly switched to UT Orange, which was the logical choice for the final design. Moldesign Mold Making in Knoxville produced the tool, which “worked great, allowing us to knock out about 50,000 units in about two weeks,” he said. NewCo3, Inc. in Batesville, Miss., performed the injection molding of the frames.  

The shields are packaged flat and distributed in two parts for assembly by the wearer. The clear, plastic shield portion is made from a material called PET-G, polyethylene terephthalate glycol, similar to the material used to make water bottles. Thickness of the shield is about 20 mm, or about two-thirds the thickness of a debit card. A portion of the film used in the production of the shield was donated by Eastman Chemicals, an IACMI partner based in Kingsport, Tenn., while some material has been purchased from other suppliers. Jamison Steel Rule Die Inc., based in Murfreesboro, Tenn., made the steel rule die for cutting the shield material.   

“It’s a clear, crystalline material—in fact, it’s so very clear you can hardly see it’s there,” Vaidya said. “It is also easily cleaned with soap and water or alcohol wipes.” 

UT engineering students in the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility and Engineering Annex used steel dies to cut the clear shields. 

UT Engineering Students Play Key Role

The clear shields were cut to print by engineering students at the IACMI-supported Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility and Engineering Annex (FCMF) on the UT campus. The students, led by Vaidya and FCMF engineers Stephen Sheriff and Joe Gausphol, used steel dies equipped with sharp edges in the shape of the visor. The students place the film on the die and when the press is brought down, the material is sheared into the desired shape. There are three location for holes, so the end user simply matches the three holes to the visor frame and makes the attachment.


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