SVSU lab produces sanitizer, 3D prototypes for local public services

Courtesy Photo | University Communications

Matthew Kline, manager of the SVSU independent testing lab, is using his skills to produce around 310 gallons of hand sanitizer for local public service employees.

Kline started working with the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance during the COVID-19 pandemic to fill the need for critical supplies, including hand sanitizer. The organization told Kline they needed a place to store alcohol to make hand sanitizer, but it quickly morphed into SVSU making it.

“I just stepped up and contacted folks,” Kline said. “I’ve just been using my resources, my connections in the business community to support these efforts.”

Kline’s sources helped provide the equipment and chemicals necessary to produce hand sanitizer.

“The hand sanitizer chemicals were sourced from Fisher Scientific, which is what the university uses,” Kline said. “Some of the other equipment – mixing vessels, those sorts of things –  were provided by businesses in the community who had it available. The alcohol was provided by Old Town Distillery. There’s been additional chemical purchased by SVSU.”

By  March 31, Kline said SVSU had all the materials necessary for a test run of the sanitizer. The lab began making and bottling hand sanitizer April 1 using jugs donated by Dow.

Kline said the process of making hand sanitizer is like mixing a drink but on a “more industrial scale.” He weighs ingredients, puts them in mixing vessels, mixes them and then pours them in a jug. While a relatively simple process, Kline said it still required a mix of the correct skills and resources to make happen.

“I have certain skills and the ability to help out,” he said, “and SVSU has certain resources. It was really about matchmaking between resources and ability. … That was my goal. I saw a need, so I helped.”

For the same reason, Kline has also used SVSU’s labs to make 3D prototypes for personal protective equipment. While many people believe 3D printing can make the products, too, Kline disagrees. He said 3D printing is too slow to curve the demand for supplies. Instead, he believes the process is better suited to making prototypes to send to manufacturers.

“We can produce face masks and other personal protective equipment quicker by using 3D printing to make prototypes,” he said. “Instead of producing not even 1,000 masks a week, we can produce a thousand an hour or at least day, depending on the processes being used.”

Kline is using an open sources face mask blueprint created by a dentist from Montana. Kline said he believes this design worked best to protect people and could be manufactured using the methods available locally. He is in talks with Vantage Plastics, Nexteer and a company in Connecticut to start using 3D prototypes to mass produce in-demand personal protective equipment.

Kline said filling demands for personal protective equipment will be a team effort.

“MiHAI is sending me these lists of needs,” Kline said, “and I’m helping source the immediate needs. The rest of folks I work with are working to fill the other gaps.”

While the average person can’t make hand sanitizer or face mask prototypes, Kline said there is plenty they can do to help out.

“If you can sew, there’s many groups of ladies and men who are working to sew masks,” he said. “Those are going to folks, not professionals. Those are not necessarily medical grade or anything.”

Nonetheless, Kline said these masks can still help non-medical professionals.

“I look at it like this:  If it makes you feel better to have it on, I don’t see how it could hurt to wear it,” he said. “That’s that much less stress in your life. That has to be worth something.”

Besides making masks, Kline said the biggest way people can help during the pandemic is to follow CDC guidelines.

“It may be painful if you’re an extrovert to not go out,” he said, “but just stay home and stay away from people. Don’t spread this around. That’s the biggest thing the average person can do.”

Kaitlyn Farley

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