Problem Solving Beyond Duke School

Problem Solving Beyond Duke School

Duke School’s makerspace is all about problem solving. With the school operating in distance learning in April due to COVID-19, Director of Technology Operations and Innovations Brian Horton began considering how the school’s growing collection of machinery and shop tools could serve the community during the pandemic.

“I was thinking, OK, well we’ve got a laser cutter, is there something we could make using that?” he said.

Brian found a template for adjustable “ear savers” offered by Glowforge, the laser cutter’s manufacturer. The small, S-shaped hooks hold the loops of a surgical face mask away from the wearer’s ears for a more comfortable fit.

“Once I looked at the file and the materials we had on hand, I realized we could make a lot of these—and it doesn’t take very long to do that,” he said.

Director of Development, Dr. Kenneth W. Chandler, and Assistant Director of Development, Corey Savage, helped arrange to donate the ear savers to medical personnel at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Department of Emergency Medicine. After that, Brian said, “I turned out as many as I could.”

Over two days, Brian created 300 ear savers engraved with the Duke School logo to donate to UNC. The Glowforge cut 50 to 60 ear savers in about 15 minutes. Despite that speed, it took some time to tweak the template file, add the Duke School logo and test the process. Once cut, each hook also needed to have its heat-resistant paper coating peeled away.

To make the rigid ear savers more comfortable, Brian warmed the newly cut hooks on the heated bed of one of the school’s 3D printers. He then shaped them into curves using a large roll of duct tape that he said was “just about the size of the back of somebody’s head.”

“It was great, having something to do that could help in some way,” he said.

In normal times, the makerspace’s laser cutter, 3D printers, saws, sander, woodworking tools and electronic components support student projects and teachers’ classroom needs. The Glowforge has created pieces for students’ architectural designs, miniature wooden cutouts of preschoolers and a custom projector mount, among other things.

“Sometimes you just run into really weird problems,” Brian said. “Having the ability to make something quickly to solve that problem is incredibly empowering.”

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