Advanced manufacturing learning through collaborative creating during the COVID-19 pandemic 

July 24, 2020

Earlier this year, on the last Saturday of spring break, Alex Stiles reached out through a GroupMe chat to ask University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tickle College of Engineering (TCOE) student group presidents if any of them had personal 3D printers and would be interested in supporting Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s (TEMA) call to create headband portions of face shields for health care workers supporting COVID-19 patients. 

 He immediately got a response of more than a dozen UT students, which led to the creation of  over 200 face shield headbands in three days.   

 Stiles is a PhD candidate in energy science and engineering through the UT-ORNL Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, where he is a graduate fellow who has participated on many technical research projects and has led many workforce development initiatives through IACMI – The Composites Institute 

 Stiles is a graduate leader at the IACMI-supported Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility (FCMF), led by IACMI’s Chief Technology Officer and UTORNL Governor’s Chair in Advanced Materials, Uday Vaidya.  Dr. Vaidya was coordinator for the university-wide effort to produce headbands for face shields, tapping into the many maker spaces and labs on campus with 3D printers.  The “student team” formed by Stiles supported this larger effort,   with help from undergraduate, graduate students and even alumni from UT. Peter Tarle is an undergraduate physics and chemistry double major and president of UT’s Student Space Technology Association; Jackson Wilt is an undergraduate senior in mechanical engineering; and Christopher Forsyth is an undergraduate senior biomedical engineering major. These three students personally produced the most headband parts of the face shields from the student group. 

 Prior to creating hundreds of face shield headbands, the students had recognized the potential for 3D printing, but also understood that many others thought of their personal printers as hobbies to tinker with in their spare time. But the pandemic put the potential for creation in a new perspective. 

 “This was an opportunity for us to be active and positive participants during the pandemic. The more that we could do, the quicker people could be safe,” noted Wilt. 

 Through 3D printing the headbands, the students recognized how their education is being catalyzed to solve real-world problems through both their classroom experience and technical knowledge.  

 “As scientists and engineers, we’re being trained how to support society by solving problems from an engineering perspective. We’re trying to understand how the world works, and then apply a technology to make it more habitable,” said Tarle. 

 In addition to their academic knowledge, the students attribute their generation’s interconnected worldview to the rapid response to support the face shield creation.  

Tarle noted, “We are a very globally connected generation. Because of our instant access to information and peers, we feel the burden of the entire world on our shoulders because we can see it [the pandemic crisis] in real time.” 

 Stiles recognizes that the primarily young generation of people with personal 3D printers are used to crowdsourcing solutions and were socially prepared to quickly respond.  

 “For those who grew up with the internet and are so used to rapid communication through platforms such as online forums, they are used to sharing information quickly,” Stiles said. There is a huge community of 3D printer users dedicated to open-source innovation. Some share print settings and printer upgrades, while  others respond with innovative product designs. They had these designs for face shields posted early. This was already something that was on the radar for these people at home with their printers. 

 The combination of the academic knowledge, culture of quick response, as well as the personal impact pushed these students to work hard to create solutions.  

 Forsythe noted, “I am going to medical school in the fall. I have friends who are on the front lines, and one of these days – if all goes according to plan – I will be on the front lines, too.”  

 Additionally, Stiles’ wife is a certified nurse midwife, continuing to see patients which also means making herself vulnerable to contract the virus.  

 This ability to personally connect to the situation drove the students to work hard to create the headbands. Tarle described his reasoning: “When you start running the numbers, you can calculate per missed mask – per hour of extra sleep between prints – what the potential risk to society would be. If you start thinking that way, you want to make sure to get those face shields printed as fast as possible.” 

 The students see themselves as one small part of the massive effort to manufacture life-saving protective equipment that ultimately delivered more than 15,000 face shields state-wide to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) for use in TN hospitals 

 Between personal 3D printers, university Maker Spaces, and professors with 3D printers, the UT community produced over 10,000 headbands to support the state effort. 

 These students are an example of the driven and capable workforce of the future who applies their academic knowledge, perseverance, and creativity to solve real world solutions. As Stiles puts it, “I think most of us are ready and willing to help, we just need to be pointed in the right direction. 

 In the midst of a pandemic, students like those working to create face shields for end users have been able to leverage their opportunities to support their own communities. IACMI is proud to partner with innovative organizations, such as the UTORNL Bredesen Center, and to support the success demonstrated in the leadership both technical and serviceof students like Stiles and those who have dedicated their time to serving the needs of their communities. 

Resilience and Perspectives During COVID-19
– A Message from IACMI CEO John Hopkins

June 4, 2020

Resilient. That is the word that comes to mind the most as I look back over the past three months.

COVID-19 has impacted our lives in so many unprecedented ways. My heart aches for the people that have lost family members and friends to this deadly virus.

In just a short period of time, the coronavirus has fundamentally altered the way we live our lives and how nearly everyone conducts business. My work calendar over the past three months has been filled with conference calls, Zoom, Teams and WebEx meetings. Daily, I have spoken with people in a variety of organizations about COVID-related topics such as masks, face shields, ventilators, and test supplies, as well as the advanced composite materials used to make these items, the scalable innovation and immediate manufacturing needed, and supply chain independence required to respond to this emergency.

Many of you – our 150+ IACMI members – know this feeling all too well. You have transitioned and adapted your essential operations to meet the health and safety needs of your local communities as well as the nation. At the same time, many of you have pivoted to ensure that your organization’s vision and strategic plan remain on course while adjusting to a changing business ecosystem. You have been forced to rethink priorities and potentially accelerate new initiatives centered on how they will serve your customers in the post-COVID era.

Our IACMI members are resilient. They make up and support the composites supply chain and include material suppliers; tiers 1, 2 & 3 suppliers; automotive and wind OEMs and fabricators; academia; and national laboratories. The current coronavirus pandemic underscores the importance of having our consortium aligned and connected with each other as a community, and the broader connectivity provided by the Manufacturing USA Institutes as a network of these communities, so we can accelerate technical innovations and rapidly manufacture solutions to meet U.S. demand.

Our IACMI innovation partners and members have demonstrated their creativity and resilience in support of multiple response initiatives. These efforts span timeline and manufacturing scales and address regional and national needs, from reconfiguring production lines and supply chains for large volume production of N95 filter materials to leveraging digital tools to accelerate redesign of components and tooling for large volume production of PPE and COVID diagnostic testing supplies.

These stories tell themselves and feature innovative thinking and clever collaboration as illustrated just this week by Coca-Cola and Oak Ridge National Laboratory working together to develop COVID19 test kits. (See other responses efforts here.)

COVID-19 is forcing all U.S. industries to become more resilient, responsive and more agile. As IACMI delivers on its current goals, we will continue working with our partners to improve the domestic manufacturing base and related supply chain resiliency and adaptability. This is not only critical for meeting the continued need for extensive quantities of PPE and diagnostic components during the crisis but will also accelerate U.S. economic recovery.

By the way, not all our Zoom-Teams-WebEx virtual meetings have been COVID related. Our collaborative work to drive the adoption of advanced composites and grow U.S. manufacturing and support national security has continued, albeit in non-traditional, virtual and safe distancing environments. This goes for most of our partners, whether they are pushing for the adoption of advanced composites in new infrastructure, pursuing a vision to create a supply chain path for coal to carbon fiber or developing a composites-related workforce for current and future manufacturing.

Experts vary in their assessment of the extent of the damage related to the virus; however, most agree that the impact will be severe, both in terms of the economy as well as the populous’ wellbeing. Despite our resiliency, the crisis response has shown more clearly the challenges that our U.S. manufacturing supply chain faces providing emergency and surge response. Further, the impact of offshoring of specific parts of the supply chain has created vulnerabilities for the country. Greater adaptability and resilience of the domestic manufacturing base is necessary for national security and global competitiveness and will accelerate economic recovery.

There have been several novel contributions by additive manufacturing recently to help better the crisis. Items that support the fabrication of masks, face shields, and other components for medical services, for example, have been developed by researchers across the country. COVID puts additive manufacturing in a different context where you really see in a concentrated way the importance of this manufacturing practice on the economy and nation’s safety as well as the national security interest that IACMI and everyone in the composites field have all been working toward.

Throughout it all, IACMI and  our consortium will remain steadfast in using every tool we have at our disposal to make a positive difference and to plan, design and provide new solutions that will enable our consortium environment to be more resilient.

IACMI COVID-19 Response & Information

May 15, 2020

Statement by IACMI CEO, John Hopkins

“COVID-19 has impacted the U.S. health care system in unprecedented ways and has highlighted the need to strengthen the U.S. manufacturing base. Many of our 150+ IACMI members have transitioned and adopted their operations to meet the health and safety needs of their local communities as well as the nation. We are proud of the innovation, creativity and resilience that our IACMI members have shown during the COVID-19 crisis. We are thankful to support our community and continue to bring together the innovation and workforce necessary to meet U.S. manufacturing needs.”

IACMI Staff Continues to Work from Home

As the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 pandemic continues, IACMI continues to monitor CDC recommendations along with state and local public health guidelines. The safety and wellbeing of our headquarters staff, their families, our partners and our members remains our highest priority.

In following certain provisions issued this week by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, our IACMI team will continue to work from home through June 30, 2020. We will provide updates as our office operating status changes. Although we are not in our headquarter offices, we continue to support our partners and members during this time.

We are proud of how our partners and members are utilizing their resources and applying their advanced manufacturing expertise to combat COVID-19.

Learn more about our industry’s COVID-19 response in the stories featured here on our website.

IACMI statement on COVID-19 response

April 7, 2020

Per CDC recommendations and Knox County guidelines, our headquarters staff is working from home until Monday, April 27, 2020. Although we are not in our headquarter offices, we are committed to continuing to support our partners and members during this time.

The demands of the number of COVID-19 cases are already creating a strain on the resources needed to adequately meet healthcare provider needs, and the strain may continue as the virus spreads. Therefore, it is critical that the U.S. manufacturing community utilize its resources and capabilities to create solutions to this healthcare resource crisis.

Please consider what your organization’s role can be in creating solutions to meet collective challenges, such as the following:

  • Existing and anticipated shortages of medical supplies and equipment
  • Product and service availability, as well as knowledge outside of conventional purchasing chains
  • Methods for broadly sharing solutions to the above

As healthcare needs increase, the U.S. manufacturing community is challenged to consider innovative ways to meet the demand for ventilators, N95 respirators, masks, and protective eye wear. Please consider how your organization can take a role in addressing the emerging challenges presented by COVID-19.

Contact us at to share your input and check back on this webpage for latest updates from the Institute. Let us work together to support one another during this crisis.


IACMI & Membership Responses

A message from Instron: “Instron mechanical testing instruments are critical to the production of drug delivery devices, personal protective equipment, ventilators and many other items related to the COVID-19 rapid response efforts. As such, our company has been heavily involved in supporting the world’s largest manufacturers and is actively seeking to increase our involvement with any company seeking to test their products as part of the response to COVID-19.  We are prioritizing our customers involved in the COVID-19 response efforts in every way possible, including reducing lead times for new equipment and making support personnel available for immediate installation of new equipment. For more information, please call us directly at +1 800 564 8378 or visit us at”

Manufacturing USA Institute Network Responses

Federal Government & NGO Resources

IACMI State Partner Resources