When Eli Reese began his class in manufacturing at Maxwell High School of Technology this semester, he knew the work would prepare him for real-life scenarios.

But neither he, his classmates or his instructor anticipated that it would allow them to provide needed help during a pandemic.

And yet here they are, helping manufacture ear reliefs and face shield frames for frontline workers by utilizing the 3D print farm they set up before the coronavirus pandemic forced students — and a lot of the rest of the world — away from their normal routine.

“It’s very cool learning about things that are so flexible and complex that can be accomplished,” said Reese, a junior who lives in Sugar Hill. “We didn’t know (there would be) a pandemic, but we were prepared for it.”

That’s because the program was designed specifically to have real-world applications. When classes started this semester, instructor Brandon Meyers’ message was as simple as it was difficult: Come up with a plan that utilized a small, portable unit that could help nonprofits in a “relatively low cost” way.

What the class — which consists of 16 students who are either juniors or seniors — came up with was a group of six 3D printers that weren’t costly (about $349 each) and that could easily be assembled and disassembled.

That last part proved incredibly important when the pandemic led Gov. Brian Kemp to close schools. Faced with being unable to physically be at the school, Myers took apart the printers and relocated them to his home in Flowery Branch.

He quickly discovered the students had more than lived up to their part of the assembly challenge.

“That was part of the constraints I gave the students,” Myers said. “Could it be disassembled and reassembled pretty quickly?

“I took it down (at school) and had it operating within 24 hours at my home. It was pretty amazing.”

Since the 3D printers — referred to by the students as “The Farm” — have been relocated to Myers’ home, they have continued to make personal protective equipment (or PPE as you’ve heard them referred to often) that are being donated to frontline workers.

The printers, which are stacked in two rows of three on top of each other, can produce six large or nine small ear reliefs every three hours, up to about 300 a day. The class is also making face shield frames, and at full capacity six can be made every hour.

So far, the class has produced 458 ear reliefs, 57 face shield uppers and 20 face shield lowers in seven days.

“We needed something that would be a fast turnaround, and this was the perfect opportunity to run it,” Myers said. “It turned out to be a great opportunity to really prove our class project for the year. And we’ve been able to help a lot of people.”

So far, donations have been made to a postal worker to share with his colleagues, a Gwinnett County police officer to share with fellow officers, a nurse at Emory University Hospital and to the Northeast Georgia Health System. As more are produced, more agencies in need of the PPE are being sought, Myers said.

Myers is in his second year of teaching the class, which is part of Gwinnett County Public Schools’ Academies and CTE Division. He came to the school system from private industry where he worked for AZZ Specialty Welding, a specialty welding and engineering company that serves the nuclear, energy and petrochemical industries.

He brings that real-world mentality to the Maxwell classroom, which resonates with his students. They say he teaches them to solve problems versus pitching products, and teaches them to be proactive and not wait for a boss to micromanage their every step.

That has already paid off for Reese, who with Myers’ backing has garnered an internship and a job as a CNC (computer numerical control) operator with KGMade Suppressors, a military contractor located in Norcross.

“He’s an awesome teacher,” Reese said of Myers. “I hope this job turns into a career because going in and doing something I love doesn’t feel like work.”

Reese said he and his classmates are proud to contribute during the pandemic, a sentiment Myers echoes.

“I am so proud of what my students have accomplished in our program. My goal is to give our students the tools and the opportunity to take extreme ownership of their education at Maxwell,” Myers aid. “The CTE programs offered in Gwinnett schools provide an unparalleled opportunity for students to experience real world applications of what they are learning. Every project is designed to push them a little further than think they can handle. Time and time again, our students never disappoint.

“The 3D Printer Farm was another example of what these students can do when given the opportunity. They didn’t stop at learning how to use a 3D printer. Our students built a small production facility that has responded to this emergency above and beyond all expectations.”

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