By Brian Indre
Falls Church resident Jon Girard began 3D printing protective face shields as the news spread about the lack of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers during the Covid-19 outbreak. Along with his wife, Jennifer, and two neighbors, who also have 3D printers, the foursome have banded together and are producing up to one hundred face shields a day.
During normal times, Jon is an independent contractor that does video production and photography, but is currently out of work due to Covid-19. He considers himself part of the maker culture (or DIY), and likes to work with his hands, which explains the 3D printer.
Before Covid-19, he would use the printer to make gifts for people and design little knick-knacks such as plates and hooks. He even printed parts for drones, although that slowed with the caveat of not being able to fly one legally this close to Washington, D.C.
After seeing how people from around the country took matters into their own hands and made protective masks and face shields to help the shortage during the pandemic, he sprang into action.
“Having a 3D printer and being stuck at home, I wanted to see what we could do to help,” said Jon.
The band (the part that is 3D printed) to hold the shield in place came from a Swedish design that is approved through the National Institutes of Health.
“We chose this design because it is the quickest to print with the material we have around and can be put together without having to outsource any straps or other parts,” the Girard’s explained.
Jon started by printing a bunch of the bands, and thought that maybe after 30 or 40 that he’d probably be done. Little did he know that demand would not subside and he said making the face shields has now become his full time job.
“I just didn’t expect the high demand of people reaching out, it’s been overwhelming, and it’s become my current full time job,” he said.
Jennifer took charge of the logistics and communications part of the operation, as well as maintaining the active spreadsheet of all the order requests that is shared with the other two guys involved in the process.
At the beginning, she reached out to a couple of hospitals that had donation lines set up for needed supplies, but they didn’t seem interested. Next she contacted The Kensington, which expressed interest in their product.
From that point they knew they could print a lot more than just what one The Kensington needed, so she then tried reaching out to the local online community. After posting to Nextdoor in early April, as well as the local Northern Virginia thread on Facebook, the requests for face shields came pouring in.
“We are still getting requests on the same Nextdoor thread,” she said, nearly three weeks from the first posting.
It was through Nextdoor that they met Matt Coffron and Nick Wright, the other two people involved in their production process. Between the three households, they have five 3D printers to keep up with demand.
The shield itself is a transparency sheet that you can find at any local office supply store like Office Depot, the Girards explain. They have also ordered them from Amazon, before the sheets were sold out. The only other supplies needed is the 3D printing filament (thermoplastic feedstock; comes in spools), a three-hole punch to attach the band to the transparency sheet and a pair of scissors to cut and shape the opposite corners of the sheet.
Jennifer explains how she keeps on top of things while still working her day job from home.
“In the morning, before I begin work, I’ll gather up the shield bands,” that her husband printed, “and assemble them,” she said. “We have set aside an area in our house that we keep as clean and as sanitary as possible, we wear gloves, we’re not a laboratory,” but they are being as cautious as they can, she explained.
The printers can be a little finicky, so there is down time when Jon will have to perform maintenance or troubleshoot a problem.
“3D printers are not quite as smooth running as perhaps an Inkjet of Laser printer. They require attention, so you can’t set it and forget it,” said Jennifer.
On a good day, when the printers are working well, Coffron (who is 3D printing just the bands) will drop off what he’s done to the Girards so the shield part can be attached.
“Coffron and I handle the bulk orders, while Wright handles smaller one-off orders,” which involve slightly different printed models or larger face shields, “for those that may have specific needs,” Jon said. Wright also sets up his own pickups and drop offs for what he makes.
They have now donated directly to some hospitals, the Virginia state police, the Fairfax Health District, individual healthcare workers, pharmacy workers and even a grocery store worker. Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg has put in a request for 500 face shields — their biggest order so far.
For smaller orders, Jennifer said that they will gladly schedule a delivery, but most people are willing to come to their house to pick them up. For those orders, she uses a plastic bag or whatever she has available around the house and writes the name on it.
“I hang their bag on my fence in my front yard, then wave from a socially appropriate distance, to make sure that they get their bag,” she said.
So far, 1,400 shields have been produced, and they plan to keep it going as long as there is demand and they can afford to do so. They mention that some neighbors have made donations (monetary, or even 3D printer filament) but they certainly are not asking for it.
“On the one hand it has been great that he has more time to dedicate to these, but on the other hand we’re spending a lot more money on supplies that we certainly wouldn’t normally be doing,” said Jennifer. “The one thing that we are waiting to see is our electric bill, because the printers have pretty much been running nonstop,” she jokes.
And while they deal with some minor challenges, they said that it has been nice to be able to help meet the needs in some small way during these troubled times.
“People have been so grateful, when they come by, or they will text us feedback or pictures afterward. It’s been very rewarding to see our product in use by nurses who work in a Covid unit at a hospital,” the Girards said.