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UTI Instructors Step Up to Make PPE for Local Hospitals

Apr 21, 2020 ·

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Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used every day by healthcare professionals to help protect themselves, patients and others. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, this equipment has become even more critical, yet many healthcare facilities are experiencing a drastic shortage. 

With the current state of our world, UTI Lisle instructor Michael Buelens saw an opportunity to use his skills and resources to serve those in need. Michael, alongside two of his fellow instructors, stepped up to the plate and started creating PPE using their own 3D printers to provide for local hospitals.

Keep reading to learn all about Michael’s inspiring story and how he’s making a positive impact on his community during this pandemic.

Meet Michael Buelens

Michael came to UTI as a student when he was in his early 20s. He went through the Automotive and Diesel Technology program and excelled in his training. After graduating, he went to work for Caterpillar as a welder.6 He had earned his welding certifications previously, and took on this role in order to get his foot in the door with the company.

After working for Caterpillar for some time, Michael went on to work as a fleet mechanic for an ambulance company in the Chicago area. He quickly leveled up in the organization and went from lube tech to supervisor.

In order to be closer to home, Michael transferred to another ambulance company, where he became a fleet manager. In this role, he had 5 facilities with over 30 ambulances he had to take care of on his own. 

Michael always knew he eventually wanted to return to UTI as an instructor. “Before I was even in a cap and gown, I had decided I wanted to come back and be an instructor at UTI,” he shares. One day, an email appeared in his inbox about an open position, so he took the leap and applied. 

Today, Michael teaches hydraulics and advanced electronics at UTI’s Lisle campus. His experience in the field gives him a unique perspective and allows him to give his students a glimpse of what it’s like to work in the field. 

Michael loves what he does, and his favorite thing about being an instructor is when his students have light bulb moments and understand the concepts he’s teaching.

Stepping Up to Serve the Community

Electronics is Michael’s strong suit. He used to do wiring on ambulances, which gave him a foundation of knowledge he used to learn about 3D printing. He currently has two 3D printers at home that he uses to make things for his family. 

As COVID-19 cases began to rise earlier this year, Michael immediately began thinking of ways he could help. When a request for help from Illinois Senator Laura Ellman’s office came to UTI, he jumped at the opportunity and met with two other UTI Lisle instructors who also own 3D printers.

Michael and the two other instructors formed a team and created a plan for how they could start PPE production in the most affordable and efficient way possible. Right now, they’re making the headband portion of face shields, and the organization they’re working with is assembling the rest of the face shields and donating them to Edward Hospital in Illinois.

The printers Michael has at home are FDM 3D printers, which build parts layer-by-layer by heating and extruding thermoplastic filaments. Each headband takes about 4 hours to print, and he’s making anywhere from 1 to 3 headbands per day. He sets up one printer before he goes to work and tries to print 2 more when he gets home.

The World of 3D Printing

UTI Lisle Instructor 3D Printer for Medical PPE

According to Michael, 3D printers can make just about anything you can think of. “If you can think it, you can print it,” he says.

3D printers can make items as simple as a small keychain to replacement parts for cars. If you have a 3D scanner, you can scan something, bring it up on the computer and use the STL file to print out that same object.

Today, 3D printing is used by a wide variety of industries. The medical field has 3D printed prosthetics for humans, and 3D printing can even be used to create food! Modern-day printers work with all kinds of materials, from rubber components, to metal to even wood-like textures you can shape and cut.

The Important Role Technicians Serve

While the COVID-19 crisis has caused many industries to slow down, the need for technicians remains. “Essential workers still have to get to work every day, and someone needs to be there to keep those vehicles up and running,” Michael shares.

The role of fleet technicians is especially critical during this time. One of the ambulance companies Michael used to work for has been transferring COVID-19 patients, and if these ambulances were to break down, there would be no way to get from point A to point B.

“They’re doing work that is very important,” Michael says of the technicians who work on ambulances. When he was a fleet manager, Michael took great pride in the fact that none of his ambulances ever broke down during an emergency call.

Technicians who repair and maintain ambulances are just some of the many keeping our world running right now. Without diesel technicians, for example, we couldn’t keep trucks carrying freight on the road, and without marine technicians, we couldn’t keep ships transporting valuable goods out at sea. 

No matter the industry, technicians around the world are stepping up to keep our society and economy moving forward during these challenging times. 

A Heroic Act

The work Michael and his team are doing is serving the community, and ultimately helping save lives. For him, this isn’t about earning recognition or praise — it’s all about helping others. “It’s what needs to be done, and if I can help in any way, I’m going to do it,” he shares.

Many other organizations and technicians have followed suit and are also using their available resources to protect healthcare workers. Despite the difficulty of these times, it’s encouraging to see the willingness to help and bravery of those like Michael.

To all of the essential workers and those serving their communities — thank you. We couldn’t do it without you!

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