University of the Ozarks Innovation Hub Producing Ear Guards for Healthcare Workers

University of the Ozarks is utilizing its Innovation Hub to help provide relief to local healthcare workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ethan Hefley, information technology network manager, is leading the University’s efforts in producing ear guards for masks on four 3-D printers in the Innovation Hub, which was established last semester.

The ear guards help healthcare workers who experience discomfort from extended use of protective masks. The ear guards were designed by Quinn Callander, a 12-year-old Canadian boy scout who was searching for a simple but effective device that would prevent the elastic bands on a mask from rubbing against the backs of people’s ears.

Callander’s design, a wide plastic strap that goes around the back of the head, has notches so the wearer can loop the mask’s elastic straps around whichever notches are most comfortable, allowing them to adjust the tension while keeping the mask firmly in place. He made the strap’s design available for others to download from the open-source 3D printing community Thingiverse.

3-D Printed ear guards

Hefley said he has printed about 150 ear guards as of Thursday afternoon and has distributed almost 100 to healthcare providers in Clarksville.

“I was looking for a way that we could utilize our 3-D printers in this effort to fight the coronavirus and I looked into masks, but that just wasn’t going to work,” Hefley said. “My wife saw (Callander’s) prototype on the internet and brought it to my attention. I felt like this would be a perfect way to utilize the 3-D printers to assist our healthcare workers.”

Hefley said the four 3-D printers can produce a combined 20 ear guards every two and a half hours at a cost of about 35 cents a mask in material, which is a corn plastic filament.

Hefley delivered about 20 ear guards to the Clarksville Medical Group on Thursday morning, much to the delight of administrator Jeri Williams and her medical colleagues.

“These ear guards will help tremendously for the nurses who are having to wear masks all day long a daily basis,” Williams said. “Our personnel have no choice but to wear masks right now at all times and the constant rubbing has become a real problem. The ear guards are the perfect solution. We are extremely excited and appreciative to get these.”

Hefley said he also dropped off 30 ear guards Thursday at the Johnson Regional Medical Center for their healthcare workers to try out. Before he even had time to get back to the office, hospital administrators called and requested 30 more.

“The neat thing is that the ear guards are making a difference and the healthcare workers are excited to be receiving them,” Hefley said. “It’s rewarding to know that the we can play a small role in assisting them in this fight against the virus.”