Manufacturers Step Up to Make PPE

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Two local companies have adjusted their operations to provide much-needed personal protective equipment to the health care sector during the coronavirus outbreak.

Normally, Juggerbot 3D is focused on building 3D printers. But after being put in touch with a senior-care center in Lorain, the Youngstown company spent a week developing parts for face shields that it will assemble in-house.

GLI Pool Products, meanwhile, has enough material to make 100,000 face masks, says owner Gary Crandall. With the automated cutters usually used to cut pool liners, the company has geared its process to an entirely new product that it’s never dealt with before.

“We have to change our cutting tables over to a different file. That’s not hard. Our sewing machines are designed to build safety covers, which is a much different product than these delicate masks. So there are adjustments there,” he said. “It’s really just moving from one product to another. It’s not rocket science.”

The masks, while not the high-grade equipment needed by those working in intensive care units with COVID-19 patients, are two-ply cotton with a pouch for an extra shield for an added layer of protection, Crandall says. 

“What we’re hearing is people on the front lines are stuffing [masks] with tissues or coffee filters or paper towels for extra protection,” he said. “The people reaching out asking for [these masks] don’t have any protection.” 

On March 26, with material cut faster than it could be assembled at its Youngstown manufacturing site, GLI put out a call for volunteers to make the masks at home. The response was almost instantaneous. By the next morning, Crandall says the company had received about 150 responses.

“It was almost an email a minute,” he says. “It’s getting hard to keep up with it. … People have been generous with materials, donating string and the like that we need to complete these masks.”

Production of the facemasks would go on for as long as GLI can get the materials and there’s demand. 

“If it’s a month, it’s a month. If it’s two months, it’s two months,” he says. “I never had a beginning and end spot in mind. We’re just trying to do our part.”

At Juggerbot, Vice President Dan Fernback says the company spent the week of March 23 developing prototype face shields for two senior-care centers. The frames are 3D printed, with an elastic headband and shield ordered separately. Juggerbot will assemble them in house. Fernback says he expects to be able to make about 250 in two weeks, once the prototypes are approved.

“This is different from what we’re normally doing internally, especially since we’re taking on the assembly aspect. Even though we’ve always offered printing services, at our core, we’re machine builders,” he says. “It’s a minor adjustment to make medical devices but we’re happy to put the manufacturing hat on.”

Beyond the initial two orders, one from a center in Lorain and another in Youngstown, Juggerbot has been in contact with the Ohio Health Care Association to identify other senior-care sites in desperate need of PPE.

Demand should exceed capacity at the Youngstown Business Incubator portfolio company, Fernback says. But there’s a slew of additive manufacturers across the country ready and willing to start producing.

“It’s been a community effort. We’ve been on the phone with people from Lorain, Youngstown, parts of Cleveland and Columbus trying to understand this,” he says. “We had a call with folks [March 26] from Colorado. It’s all a similar push.”

Juggerbot could expand into other medical equipment, but now is solely focused on making the face shields.

“A lot of people are looking for masks and valves,” Fernback says. “The shields are pretty straightforward. It’s promoted by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] as worthwhile in protecting carriers.”