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Face masks can be irritating for health care workers’ ears. So a Hampstead chef learned 3D printing to help.

Lars Nolen shows one of the ear savers he fabricated on a pair pf 3D printers at his home in Hampstead Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The ear savers are used with face masks worn with ear loops.
Lars Nolen shows one of the ear savers he fabricated on a pair pf 3D printers at his home in Hampstead Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The ear savers are used with face masks worn with ear loops. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Lars Nolen is a chef by trade, so when the COVID-19 pandemic forced his restaurant to close, he suddenly found himself at his Hampstead home without something to do.

“I am not one to sit around and watch the world burn. I had to figure out something to do,” he said. “I was going to get into 3D printing anyway, so I got myself a printer.”

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But Nolen wasn’t just picking up a new hobby; he wanted to find some way to contribute. He thought about joining the people who have been making masks for health care workers, but soon found a niche need that wasn’t already being filled.

“I have a bunch of buddies who are paramedics and nurses, and they were complaining about the masks with the ear loops,” he said. “After prolonged wearing of them, there is a bad irritation that develops that can lead to bleeding and things like that. Its very uncomfortable.”

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Nolen began researching solutions from the 3D printing community and soon found one: a small band of plastic known as an “ear saver.”

“It fits behind your head at at the base of your skull, and it has wings on it that pulls the elastic off of your ears,” he said. “It’s sensitive skin back there, so it keeps the plastic off to reduce or mitigate that irritation that can develop.”

So Nolen dove in and started printing the ear savers using an open-source design and rolls of a plastic material known as PLA. It quickly became clear to him that he made the right choice of product to make.

Lars Nolen fabricates ear savers on a pair pf 3D printers at his home in Hampstead Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The ear savers are used with face masks worn with ear loops.
Lars Nolen fabricates ear savers on a pair pf 3D printers at his home in Hampstead Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The ear savers are used with face masks worn with ear loops. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“The masks take like 12 hours each to make. I was able to start making the ear savers like one every 15 to 20 minutes,” Nolen said. “I’ve ended up getting more printers; I have like a small farm going now, and I am producing 20 to 30 every three hours and 50 minutes.”

So far, the ear savers have been well received.

“I’ve sent 100 to [Carroll Hospital] and they asked me for more,” Nolen said. “I sent 150 to Queen Anne’s County paramedics, and 100 initially went to Shore Medical Group ... and they’ve asked for 500 more.”

He isn’t charging for the ear savers and is donating to those who ask, though Nolen did say that if anyone wanted to purchase a roll of PLA for him make a donation to help him defray costs he would be open to it — those interested in supporting him or requesting ear savers for their workplace can email him at larscdxx@hotmail.com.

And then, if anyone wants to join in, Nolen notes, there is a low bar to entry and a need to fill.

“I took it up thinking I would be helping fill a shortage of something. But what’s turned out is it’s a literal demand, there aren’t any mass-produced products like this,” he said. “For $250 at Micro Center you can get a printer, and for $20 bucks a roll of PLA, you can make a 1,000 of these.”

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