Oct. 13, 2020
A 2020 biomedical engineering alumnus has put his skills to work 3D-printing face shields at his house to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
Austin Olvera spent his summer producing the medical devices to help families in his hometown of Plano, Texas.
Olvera, who is pursuing his master’s degree at Rice University in Houston, said the idea came late in this senior year.
“Right when COVID started and the schools were closing, I was working to finish my senior design project,” he said. “My dad purchased a 3D printer as a hobby, and I realized I really enjoyed it, and I saw it could be used to help fight the pandemic.”
He began by producing hands-free keys — handheld tools with hooks that can be used to open doors or push buttons in public spaces without having to touch a shared surface. He later transitioned into face shields.
What began as a small operation turned into a major business, with Olvera ultimately running ten 3D printers and a laser cutter to keep up with the demand for online orders.
“The majority of my business is online, or through social media,” he said. Olvera recently released a children’s version of the face shield, which was an instant hit.
“Those really blew up,” he said.
Olvera, who was advised by Morten Jensen, associate professor of biomedical engineering, said his biomedical engineering education set him up for success in the endeavor.
“The biggest impact was definitely learning to use SolidWorks (a design software), and learning how to research and develop products,” he said. “I learned you’re not always right — you’re not always making the final product on the first try. You have to try and try again.”
Olvera has downsized his operation since beginning classes, but has volunteered his services to help his classmates 3D print prototypes for their projects.
Raj Rao, professor and head of the department of biomedical engineering, said Olvera’s work exemplifies the department’s goals.
“I am extremely proud of Austin for using his biomedical engineering education to fulfill an urgent need in his community,” Rao said. “He is an excellent example of the kind of student we are training through our educational and design programs — to develop healthcare solutions that engage with their local communities with potential for broad impact.”