Saving ears and saving lives: USF lab producing ear savers, PPE for Tampa healthcare workers

A lab at the University of South Florida has shifted its focus from product design to manufacturing in an effort to provide critical PPE for healthcare workers. 

The USF College of Engineering’s Mini-Circuits Design for X Lab is always bustling.

“This is normally an open-use space where students can come, learn, collaborate,” explained senior research engineer Michael Celestin.

 For the last two months, a limited number of people have been allowed inside, but the lab is just as busy.

“We’ve basically repurposed this to manufacture face shields, face masks, and also the ear reliefs for frontline medical responders,” Celestin said.

3-D printers churn out devices called ear savers in a matter of minutes. The thin pieces of plastic are worn behind the head -- an adjustable alternative to wearing face mask straps around the ears.

“This simple device can alleviate a lot of pain and tension that medical workers who wear face masks all day experience from having those straps rest against their ears for a dozen or so hours at a time,” said Celestin.

About 600 ear savers have been donated so far to Tampa General Hospital and USF Health. The lab has also produced more than 10,000 face shields for healthcare workers.

Teams use an assembly line process to efficiently manufacture up to 800 face shields a day.

“We wanted to produce something that would be useful for them, and the feedback we got is that they want something that’s comfortable, easy to use, and disposable,” Celestin said.

A laser cutter shapes plastic film down to size, foam strips and elastic bands are cut, and the pieces are taped, glued, and stapled together.

“They’re packaged up in a very sanitary way and shipped off in bundles of 10,” Celestin said.

It only takes about $.49 worth of materials to make one face shield. Based on the cost of a single-use shield right now, Celestin says they’ve delivered the equivalent of $60,000 in medical supplies to area frontline workers.

“Their reception to us helping them out has been absolutely positive, they’ve been really appreciative of it and we just want to help in whatever way we can here in the College of Engineering,” said Celestin.

The lab has materials on hand to produce another 10,000 face shields and plans to continue manufacturing them as long as there’s a need.

They have set up a fund to help produce PPE. 100% of donations will go directly to purchase more materials to produce face shields and ear savers. For more information or to donate visit