Chapel Hill Native Helps Flatten the Curve

U.S. soldiers in South Korea hold community-use masks created by their unit’s 3-D printers. Chapel Hill's Capt. Edward Bullard, the project's designer, is second from right. U.S Army photo by KCpl. Hanmin Yun. Affairs


From Staff Reports

More than 7,000 miles from his hometown, Ed Bullard is working to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bullard, a native of Chapel Hill and a captain with U.S. armed forces in South Korea, has led an effort to create reusable masks made from Additive Manufacturing (AM), better known as 3-D printers.

“The benefits of AM is that you don’t have a whole production line that has to be retooled to produce something different,” Bullard, the Delta Company commander, said in a story published by a defense department digital platform. “It’s very easy to type some new code, load a new model and produce something completely different with the same material.

Bullard, who was the project designer, studied structural engineering and architecture in college before deciding on a career flying.

“When our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ryan Sullivan, asked me if I was interested in the project, I personally got involved to see if I still had my skills in draft and modeling,” Bullard said. “For me it’s more of a hobby. About six years ago I bought my first components to buy a 3-D printer and I’ve been doing so ever since. I currently have three in my Senior Living Quarters right now.”

Bullard’s first designs were submitted to the National Institute of Health for them to test and were subsequently given a certification that allowed mask printing as long as they are labeled “For Community Use Only.”

During the initial planning phase of the project Bullard and flight surgeon Tylor Connor solicited feedback from the Combat Capability Development Center on what types of filters to use and sourcing options.

The National Institute of Health 3-D mask files can be downloaded and printed out by anyone at home. Bullard, along with other collaborators like the Office of Naval Research and Futures Command, are working to achieve not only a better community-use mask but also a technical data package. They want to eliminate guess work by outlining testing procedures, best print settings and part orientation to make it easier for someone who is less experienced with 3-D printing to manufacture a satisfactory product.

The team has now produced and distributed 20 masks to healthcare workers within the last couple days.

“What I am holding in my hand looks very different from what we initially started with,” Bullard said. “I would call this version 5.4. Ultimately, what we’ve got is a very small part of this large global effort, but we hope it can be replicated anywhere there is a need.”

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