VCAM Maker Arts Space Equipment Helps Fight Against Coronavirus

Kent Watson not only donated all of the shop’s PPE to local front line workers, he has also been overseeing loans of 3D printers and sewing machines to make new face shields and masks.

Even with campus effectively closed, machinery from the Maker Arts Space in VCAM is working overtime to help make personal protective equipment (PPE). Kent Watson, the Maker Arts technician and coordinator, first got involved in outfitting medical responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic when Fred Crawford ’96, a volunteer with the nearby Narberth Ambulance, reached out for donations.

“I gave them all of what we had: boxes of nitrile gloves, four boxes of N95 face masks, safety glasses and splash goggles, and two face shields usually used for machining,” said Watson.

But after hearing stories about makers around the country using their fabrication machines to create new PPE from scratch in the face of nationwide shortages, he wanted to find ways the Maker Arts Space could be useful going forward.

“There are a lot of ways the equipment could be used, and it has been inspiring to see how creative people are and how many people want to help,” said Watson.

Last week, he loaned three of the College’s 3D printers—nicknamed Frasier, Niles, and Martin—and donated 15 to 20 spools of filament for the printers to PPE Fab Crew, a local group of makers in Lower Merion Township that was born out of the coronavirus PPE shortage. They are making face shields for medical professionals by laser-cutting front panels from very thin sheets of plastic and attaching them to 3D-printed headbands. Watson says the group has 14 3D printers working on the time-consuming process of making headbands, and that the Haverford machines contribute about 50 a day.

Those shields then go to many medical facilities in the region including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Lankenau Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, Narberth Ambulance, Bryn Mawr Hospital, and Temple Lung Center.

“This group already had a network of hospitals and medical professionals that were accepting face shields, so it was great to know they were going to be put to good use and utilized where they were needed,” said Watson.

It’s not just 3D printers that are helping to make protective gear. After the Centers for Disease Control began recommending that non-front-line personnel wear cloth face masks, professional and amateur sewers alike put their skills to use making cloth masks, and Watson wanted the Maker Space’s seven sewing machines to be part of the effort. 

“A lot of people in the Haverford community—staff, faculty, a recent alum, and even two Swarthmore students—got in touch with me about borrowing our sewing machines,” he said. “Tara Webb, the costume shop manager at Swarthmore, has been really helpful in getting templates and providing guidelines for making masks safely.”

Watson stands at the ready to continue to help. He says that, if needed, he will start cutting face shields for the PPE Fab Crew. (Though they currently have all the help they need.) And he is trying to help connect the group with other folks who have needed supplies. To that end, please contact him at if you (or someone you know) can lend a 3D printer or donate 3D filament.

Says Watson: “We are also looking for donations of transparencies and large and small Ziplock bags.”