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High schooler uses recycled materials and design chops to churn out protective gear

COURTESY PHOTO HARVEY BILTON - Christian Bilton uses a 3D printer and recycled materials to make protective face shields that can be worn to prevent contracting viruses. Face shields are currently in short supply among healthcare workers who rely on them to treat COVID-19 patients.Using recycled soda bottles and a 3D printer, one high school student said he hopes to help provide protective face wear for those in need during the coronavirus outbreak.

While thousands of other Oregonians have taken to crafting homemade masks, Christian Bilton is answering the call for face shields and doing so through high tech. The 15-year-old Scappoose High School student used open source software to obtain the design for a plastic headband that serves as a key component in face shields worn by healthcare workers.

"Some of the larger businesses that all work with 3D printers were asking the local community to start printing them for their local hospitals," Bilton said.

The teen has a 3D printer at home and didn't hesitate to try his hand at manufacturing the connective frame. So far, he's successfully made a small run of face shields, by cutting out plastic from two-liter soda bottles, then using the rounded connector to fasten the plastic in place. He used rubber bands to fit the shield around his head.

For Bilton, the needs of first responders hits close to home. His father, Harvey Bilton, is a firefighter paramedic for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.

"He's a creative guy and he's a helpful guy so he thought he had a chance to make something that would help other people," said Vicki Bilton, Christian's mother.

Christian Bilton said he's eyeing a future in engineering. He learned the bulk of his skills in middle school and is now proficient with a 3D printer, as well as computer-aided design programs.

"I took a class in the middle school called 'design modeling' that introduced me to CAD software," he said.

Now, Vicki Bilton said that technology that seemed like "science fiction" 10 years ago is a tinker toy for her tech-savvy son. He's used his 3D printer for other helpful purposes, too.

Vicki Bilton said when she needed to prune trees in their yard and her tools were lacking, her son designed his own tree limb spreader and manufactured it with the printer.

"Now I'm able to hold the branches apart on some of the trees that I have," she said.

If the latest data is any indication, Bilton's ingenuity could be helpful for workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the U.S., healthcare workers are faced with a shortage of critical personal protective equipment, or PPE. Oregon still needs roughly 979,000 additional face shields, according to supply figures released by the Oregon Health Authority Monday, April 6.

Bilton estimates he can print five to 10 shield frames per run — not enough to fulfill the state's shortage — but if he can help outfit a few nurses or doctors, he's willing.

"I've printed a few for personal use," Bilton noted. "But I'd be totally happy to donate some to a local hospital if they needed them."

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