When schools closed in March due to COVID-19, Carob Bradlyn and Justin Cooper started to look for ways to keep their son engaged at home. Bradlyn, a local artist and Yuba City High School ceramics teacher, said her son loves STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and missed attending workshops at the Idea Fab Labs makerspace, so they bought a 3D printer and started to create from home—Bradlyn and Cooper, too. The couple found a way to make an impact during the pandemic by using the printer to make ear savers—small plastic bands that relieve discomfort from face masks by allowing the loops to hook to a small band behind the head rather than to the ears. Bradlyn and Cooper (a network analyst for Chico Unified School District) are using a free, open-source template and have been shipping ear savers to medical workers, businesses and individuals in Chico and around the country for no charge. They have recently started accepting donations through GoFundMe, with all proceeds go toward supplies. The couple now has three printers going to keep up with orders. The CN&R talked to Bradlyn about the project:
What made you decide to print ear savers?
The initial desire to do it was to help others. I was feeling really stressed by the pandemic—like I’m sure everybody is—and doing a service for others made the stress for me more manageable. One of my friends who works in healthcare had a rash behind their ear and said the rash is gone after using these. The ear savers help people with hearing aids or who have trouble wearing a mask at all. This is something that’s really helping others and that’s important to me.
How’d you find the design?
I went on Facebook and asked if anybody knew where I could get a design. One of my friends connected me with one of her friends who sent me an email with the ear saver files in it. They also sent me a file for a face shield headband, but I haven’t printed any of those yet. I don’t know if we will or not. There’s this website called Thingiverse—you should look that up—[and] the design is on there as well. It’s a 3D printing design database, basically. You can go on there and download anybody’s design and print it. You can also alter the designs how you want.
Are materials expensive?
The [plastic] filaments are a little expensive. It’s anywhere from $20 to $40 a roll. There are several different filaments out there, but we use TPU, which is a flexible filament. I think it’s slightly more expensive than the PLA that other people are printing with, but the TPU is flexible. That made it so we had to alter our printers. A lot of them print with a tube called the Bowden tube. The flexible filament doesn’t really do well with the Bowden tube, so it really needs a direct drive. My husband had to take the Bowden tube out and install the direct drive so that the TPU printed better. That’s why he’s the technical advisor on the project. I work on marketing and creativity, PR—that sort of thing. Another interesting thing is we used the donations to buy a third printer, so we can print seven ear savers at a time. And that takes about three hours. We added our own flair to it, too. We print in cool colors and then we put a heart on it to represent all of humanity working together. The other expense we have along with the filaments is shipping, so I use the GoFundMe to buy postage as well.
How can people place an order?
I’ve mostly been blasting my Arts By Carob Facebook page to promote them. I’m also a moderator on the COVID-Responsible Places – Chico [Facebook] page and I’ll post on there. People will message me and I’ll get their address and how many they need and I send them off. But the other way is I’ll get emails through GoFundMe. The thing about that is I have people forget to add their address on there so I have to ask for it or I won’t know where to send them.