Hallam man uses 3D printer to make 2,500 'ear savers' for health workers
In just a few days, a Hallam man made about 2,500 ear savers for medical professionals and first responders — free to the community.
With the help of his 12 3D printers, Matthew Flinchbaugh turned his idea of how he could give back to front-line workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic into a reality.
"If there's anything I can do to help, I'll help," Flinchbaugh said. "It's our way to say thank you to the medical professionals and first responders."
Flinchbaugh, who has a 3D printing company, Flinchbaugh Designs, said he noticed many online peers donating their time to print 3D items such as face mask shields, and he wanted to do the same.
He settled on printing ear savers after local medical workers told him it was something they needed.
For doctors, nurses and other first responders who wear face masks for a prolonged period of time, an ear saver is a small plastic part that can provide a lot of relief. The tool goes behind the person's head and has small hooks on it for the elastic bands of a face mask to wrap around, taking pressure off the ears, Flinchbaugh said.
"People's ears are being rubbed raw from the elastic bands being in contact directly," Flinchbaugh said. "I saw (ear savers) as something I can produce rapidly."
In just an hour, Flinchbaugh is able to produce 86 ear savers. And since he started on Wednesday, he's made about 2,500.
While he's only gone local with his product, Flinchbaugh has already received hefty orders — including a request from York County Prison for 300 ear savers.
Flinchbaugh originally got files online to print the devices from a 12-year-old Canadian Boy Scout, Quinn Callander, who made headlines when he developed his own design for the helpful tool.
Flinchbaugh slightly altered the original design so he would be able to print more at a faster pace and so the ear saver would include his own watermark to prevent others from selling them on the internet.
"The coolest thing abut 3D printing is it allows you to rapidly innovate," he said. "If our medical community started asking for a different part, I can pivot and start doing whatever they ask for."
While in his day job Flinchbaugh is an HVAC technician, he started his side business five years ago and prints a variety of hand-designed items.
He also serves as a volunteer at the Yorkana Volunteer Fire Co. As a first responder himself, Flinchbaugh said he understands the struggles many front-line workers are experiencing as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
While he is funding the cost of supplies such as plastic and filament himself, Flinchbaugh said he doesn't want to charge people money for his product.
He is accepting donations via gift certificates to help fund the cost of materials through a 3D printing company, Printed Solid, that can be purchased from www.printedsolid.com.
He said he also encourages other York County residents with 3D printers to consider making products like ear savers for free.
Interested residents who want to help can contact Flinchbaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org. People can also place orders at the same email address.
"We had one person leave a bottle of wine for us. There's little contributions like that, and that's totally awesome," Flinchbaugh said.
— Reach Tina Locurto at email@example.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.