Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Makerspace Producing Free Face Shields for Healthcare Workers

Has already delivered over 4,300, needs donations to keep the effort going.

By - May 1st, 2020 03:39 pm
Facemasks made by the Milwaukee Makerspace. Image from the Milwaukee Makerspace.

Facemasks made by the Milwaukee Makerspace. Image from the Milwaukee Makerspace.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and “Safer at Home” order, members of the Milwaukee Makerspace pivoted from using their facility as a space for innovation and learning to one that can create thousands of face shields per week.

The organization’s Bay View facility, open 24 hours a day to the group’s 375 members, would normally be occupied by 20 to 40 members working on a wide range of projects. Now it’s an assembly center for personal protective equipment (PPE) with a core group of 10 volunteers leading the way. The organization is relying on donations to fund the effort and has raised over $19,000 to date.

Organizations or individuals can request the multiple-use face shields online.

It was one of many makerspaces around the world that made a similar shift said member Pete Prodoehl in an interview. He said makerspaces looked at making ventilators before encountering safety issues and coalescing around producing personal protective equipment. Gui Cavalcanti, who normally makes robots in the Bay Area, launched Open Source Medical Supplies to share designs and best practices.

Using a two-piece design, the Milwaukee Makerspace needed to choose how to scale their production. “3D printing is slow, but using a CNC machine to cut out things is very fast,” said Prodoehl. He said for the first few weeks the organization would run the machine for up to 20 hours a day producing the frame, with KAPCO Metal Stamping providing the clear plastic sheets to slide into the frame.

Looking to further scale up the operation, the organization switched to injection molding the frame. “With injection molding, we are making 20 to 30 times as many,” said Prodoehl. Compumold in Phillips, WI created the mold in six days. Normally production time would take many-weeks, he said. And the mold is now in use at Netzer Plastics in Medford, WI where the frames are produced and ultimately shipped to Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Makerspace, 2555 S. Lenox St., has become the cleaning and bagging facility as well as the distribution hub. “We are not selling any of these. We just want to get them to people that need them,” said Prodoehl.

As of Thursday evening, the organization has delivered 4,396 face shields. The makerspace has 30,300 molded frames on hand to continue to produce shields and is working to scale up in-house production of the clear plastic component.

Organizations or individuals can request face shields and members will drop off the masks. “A lot of it has been drop offs at people’s homes,” he said, noting that workers are facing shortages with what their employers can provide, or only are given single-use shields. The shields go over masks, extending the life of N95-certified masks or surgical masks. The shields are made of HDPE plastic and be easily washed and reused.

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard, 38 hospitals across the state have less than a seven-day supply of the shields on hand. But the makerspace has also provided the shields to non-hospital employees, including dental workers that are performing emergency procedures.

The organization is also providing parts for the face shields to others across the country, and has requests from Florida, California and Arizona. “We are still working on that with a few people, but our primary area is keeping making shields for those in Milwaukee who need them,” he said.

Want to help? You can contribute to the campaign. “If you donate $10 that will cover the cost of 15 face shields,” said Prodoehl. “It’s almost all volunteer labor on our end. No one from the makerspace is getting paid.”

The organization also needs help getting the word out to those that could use the masks. Those that could benefit from a face shield are encouraged to request them.

If you’re short on cash, but have a sewing machine. Milwaukee-based Wantable is leading a face mask sewing effort.

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