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Biz Buzz: Local university using 3D printers to help with face mask shortage

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Idaho State University using 3D printers to make face masks for medical professionals in the region. | Photo and video courtesy KPVI

Do you want to know what’s happening in the eastern Idaho business scene? We’ve got you covered. Here is a rundown of this week’s business news across the valley.



Idaho State University providing personal protective equipment for medical professionals during COVID-19

3D printer at work | Courtesy Leif Tapanila

POCATELLO – A shortage of face masks and other protective gear is creating a challenge for medical professionals as they work to fight the spread of COVID-19.

But a local university is stepping in to help.

Leif Tapanila, the director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History on the Idaho State University campus in Pocatello, tells they’re utilizing 12 of the campus’s 3D printers to make face masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment for area hospitals.

“We’re anticipating that to be a real game-changer once the (number of coronavirus cases) in our part of Idaho increases,” Tapanila says.

The printers inside the museum ordinarily print items for the exhibits, Tapanila says, but once the stay-home order went into effect they decided to use them for a different purpose.

“Nine times out of 10 we’re printing exhibits and we’re doing stuff here in-house, and it’s great to see the public enjoy those, but these (masks) actually make a difference,” Idaho Virtualization Laboratory manager Jesse Pruitt says. “I don’t want to say that we’re saving lives, but it’s certainly keeping people safer.”

They started experimenting with designs about two weeks ago. It eventually evolved into a collaborative effort between ISU, Bingham Memorial Hospital and Portneuf Medical Center.

Face masks are being produced at a rate of about 50 a day, Tapanila says.

Face mask with filter insert worn over the mouth and nose. | Courtesy KPVI

They are also working on a new plastic strap that wraps around the back of the head.

“We’ve been told by workers that when they’re wearing those (face masks) for many hours a day, the rubber band presses into the head and they’re very uncomfortable. So we’re making a wider piece of plastic strapping that attaches to those rubber bands and they’re way more comfortable,” says Tapanila.

Plastic strap that attaches to elastic band on back of face mask.

Other printers on campus are producing components for the face shield, which is used to protect the face against saliva and other airborne fluids. Tapanila and his team are making the headpiece for the face shield. The headpiece is worn over the eyes and the plastic sheet that shields the face clips into it. There is a lot of demand for the headpiece, in particular, Tapanila says.

Jesse Pruitt attaches a plastic sheet to a headpiece. | Courtesy KPVI

Each component meets certain specifications outlined by the National Institute of Health and other health professionals.

“There’s a mask called the Montana mask. It was developed by a dentist in Bozeman, and that’s become a widely used mask now for 3D printers,” he says.

Tapanila anticipates having a stockpile of nearly 400 face masks before they begin coordinating with Bingham Memorial and Portneuf Medical Center for distribution next week. The goal from the beginning was to provide masks for medical professionals and other institutions like nursing homes.

Bingham Memorial did not respond to a request for comment, but Tapanila says decisions about who receives the protective equipment will be left to medical professionals.

“As production ramps up and distribution starts, hopefully, we’ll be able to do our part to meet the needs in the region,” Tapanila says.

If you own a 3D printer and would like to join Tapanila in this effort, send him an email at


Pocatello Animal Services doing adoptions by appointment only during COVID-19

POCATELLO – As of Tuesday, April 7, Pocatello Animal Services is handling animal adoptions by appointment only. The decision to offer appointment-only adoptions was made in consultation with Southeastern Idaho Public Health.

During the adoption process, employees will be wearing masks and gloves. No more than two potential pet owners will be permitted into the shelter. Appropriate social distancing will be followed. The Pocatello Animal Shelter is not accepting stray animals or owner-surrendered animals until further notice. To schedule an appointment, call (208) 234-6156.

Idaho Falls Community Gardens moving forward with growing season amid coronavirus shutdown

IDAHO FALLS – In the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Idaho Falls Community Garden Association is inviting you to get outside and participate in the 2020 growing season with them. Kristi Appelhans, President of the association, tells there is more interest now than ever in learning how to grow your own food and gardening is a healthy way to get outside while still practicing social distancing. will post a more in-depth article soon.

Rocky Mountain Power Foundation offers support for community organizations responding to COVID-19

REXBURG – Community organizations are facing unprecedented challenges and demand for vital services. Through Rocky Mountain Power’s charitable arm, the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation has committed $311,500 for immediate support to critical community-serving organizations in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. From providing free meals for children during school closures to deploying resources and support to small businesses and care for seniors, community-based groups throughout the West have put out a call for assistance to support local COVID-19 initiatives.

Rocky Mountain Power is also helping business owners who are impacted by COVID-19 to pay their power bill by suspending disconnects due to non-payment, waiving late fees, offering flexible payment arrangements and referrals to resources made available through the government aid package.


Caldwell food industry company donating equipment to Idaho hospitals to fight COVID-19

12 free Wi-Fi hotspots set up in eastern Idaho, western Wyoming

USPS hiring after seeing enormous surge in parcel volume

Paramount Theater in Idaho Falls undergoes major remodeling

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