UK designing customized PPE with unique 3D scanner


LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — Before the state can re-open for business the government wants to see personal protective equipment more readily available.

We’ve shared stories of how desperately it’s needed, how hard it is to come by, and how every day heroes are making it on their own 3D printers.

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The University of Kentucky is taking that to the next level printing masks and respirators, but not on the kind of 3D printer you’d find at home.

UK medical professor and radiologist Dr. Michael Winkler is leading a team working hard to 3D print medical supplies.

“We wanted to add a step. It’s one thing to just print something you could use as a movie prop. It’s another thing to print something that actually fits well against the face,” says Dr. Winkler, radiologist and UK College of Medicine professor.

And that’s important. The fit keeps health workers safe and able to wear masks comfortably for long shifts, avoiding the painful marks seen in photos shared online.

So came the idea of 3D scanning using structural light.

Electrical engineering professor Dr. Daniel Lau knew a lot about that.

“It’s basically the process of using a digital projector to project stripes onto a target and using a camera to read the warping of the stripes across the target surface and being able to build a 3D model of it,” says Dr. Lau.

Dr. Lau had access to a high-end 3D scanner that could quickly scan a person’s face. He co-founded a company called Seikowave, a Lexington-based technology company focused on 3D scanning. The scanner they designed to scan faces was being used for dental patients.

“We’ve since streamlined that system so that it’s three scanners and you stand in a booth and press a button and five seconds, eight seconds later you have the entire face scanned,” says Dr. Lau.

The team would be able to scan health care workers’ faces and design respirators fit to the individual.

It wouldn’t be possible without the 3D scanners and digital fabrication resources from UK’s School of Art and Visual Studies (SAVS).

“This has both applied applications in the medical field and artistic applications in art so it was just a happy collaboration,” says Dr. Robert Jensen, director of UK’s School of Art & Visual Studies.

The masks will also be reusable.

“What’s exciting to me about this is that it’s not just a short term solution but it’s a long term solution for physician safety because they can use these masks, once they get them made, they can have them forever,” says Dr. Jensen.

Truly protecting physicians is something personal for Dr. Winkler. His wife is one.

“She’s diagnosing COVID-19 pneumonia in patients. She’s had a coworker that’s been infected,” says Dr. Winkler.

The team hopes to mount the scanners to a truck that will go from hospital to hospital scanning up to a hundred faces a day.

UK’s SAVS will print prototypes and send them to a Tennessee company for the final product.

“I would expect that once we scan somebody we’ll have a respirator for them in a week,” says Dr. Winkler.

Dr. Winkler says rapid production is at least a few weeks away. But a video of the prototype he made for himself shows they’re almost there.

“I can assure people, your viewers, that we’re here at UK to take care of them and we’re going to,” says Dr. Winkler.

And they’ll be prepared.

“For the next time or if the surge happens again in the fall, we’ll be ready in a way we weren’t before,” says Dr. Jensen.

To learn more about their work, click here.

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Christy Bollinger joined the ABC 36 news team as a reporter in March 2018. Christy comes from a little western Kentucky town called Cadiz. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in May 2017 with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Criminology. Christy is thrilled to be working at her dream job in her home state. She is passionate about storytelling and you can see her weekdays on ABC 36 News at 5 and 6 p.m. She's covered everything from visits from the sitting president and vice president, to high-profile murder cases. When not chasing stories, Christy loves nothing more than being at the beach and says life is just better with sand between your toes and waves crashing at your feet. She is also a big animal lover. She's a fur momma and her mini-Australian Shepherd, Milly, standard Australian Shepherd, Bennie, and her Maine Coon, Cheeto, are the loves of her life. Christy encourages you to send her any story ideas you may have. Find her on Facebook at Christy Bollinger ABC 36, tweet her @ChristyB_news, or email her at