Local Companies Work to Address PPE Shortage

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Medical centers across the country are facing a shortage of the personal protective equipment to safely treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Caring for a patient in intensive care for a full day requires 36 pairs of gloves, 14 gowns, three pairs of goggles and 13 N-95 face masks, said Gov. Mike DeWine in his daily coronavirus update Thursday, urging anyone who can donate such supplies to do so.

To help address that shortage, Juggerbot 3D has spent nearly a week developing 3D printed face shields that it will ship to senior-living centers in Lorain and Youngstown, says vice president Dan Fernback. 

Since the YBI portfolio company was connected to the Lorain center by one of the  partners in the JumpStart Entrepreneurial Network, Juggerbot has developed two prototypes and aims to begin production this weekend. The shields will be printed in Juggerbot’s space in the Youngstown Business Incubator, while the two other components needed have been ordered.

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

The masks are not designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Juggerbot’s website notes, but can protect against droplet transmission through the eyes, nose and mouth.

Across the additive manufacturing sector, companies are looking for ways to contribute their processes to combat the shortage of medical equipment. America Makes has launched an online repository for product designs and is fostering connections between manufacturers and the health-care industry.

“As the Department of Defense Manufacturing Innovation Institute for additive manufacturing, America Makes’ mission is to drive collaboration in our industry to meet the needs of the US government and manufacturing base,” America Makes said in a statement. “This mission couldn’t be more clear today with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and pending supply shortages throughout the US. We believe this repository will play a critical role in meeting the needs of front line health-care workers.”

Beyond the first two orders, Juggerbot has been in contact with the Ohio Health Care Association to find out what other local sites need the masks. Juggerbot’s capacity, Fernback estimates, is about 250 masks over the next two weeks. If the need increases, he says the company will tap into its network to try to get more made.

“We can start to tap into our network and see who else has the capacity, whether it’s customers with machines or contacts that are operating on other machines or other processes,” he says, noting that the sector has come together for this effort. “We’ve been on the phone with people from Lorain, Youngstown, parts of Cleveland and Columbus trying to understand this. We had a call with folks [Thursday] from Colorado. It’s all a similar push.”

For Juggerbot, Fernback said other medical supplies could be on the way, but for now the company is sticking to the face shields.

“The shields are pretty straightforward. It’s something that’s been promoted by the CDC as worthwhile in protecting carriers,” he says. “There are a lot of people looking for masks and valves. Those are great and we’ll look for opportunities there, but there’s a lot of uncertainty if those devices would perform adequately if they’re 3D printed.” 

Although not in the additive manufacturing sector, GLI Pool Products in Youngstown is working to put together facemasks for medical staff. Owner Gary Crandall says material for 100,000 masks is on the way. The material will be cut on the company’s automated machines usually used for cutting vinyl linings for swimming pools.

Because of the speed of the machines, GLI is seeking volunteers to help with sewing the masks together. Individuals interested in sewing masks at home or donating materials can email staysafe@glipoolproducts.com.

In Mahoning County, the shortage of equipment was quantified by the local Emergency Management Agency director Dennis O’Hara. He said the county has received a shipment of equipment from the federal government’s strategic national stockpile, enough to supply just 5% of the area’s daily use.

In the shipment were 2,880 N-95 masks, 7,000 gloves, 978 gowns and 5,400 surgical masks. Eighty percent of the items were sent to hospitals. The items will be delivered to “hot spots” first, O’Hara said, adding that his agency is fielding requests for non-PPE needs as well.

“We were only able to accommodate a small percentage of the requests for the hospitals.  We will work to continue to gather the totals and needs for the other facilities that are also in desperate need of PPE equipment,” O’Hara said via email. “Unfortunately this necessary PPE equipment enables our first responders, EMS and safety forces the ability to enter your home for all emergencies, not just the coronavirus. Without the proper safety equipment, we put everyone’s safety at risk.”

And in Columbiana County, local EMA director Peggy Clark says only 2% of what’s needed has arrived from the federal stockpile. 

“We are running short. We’re probably in need of hundreds, if not thousands, of masks and gowns,” she said. “We have had contact from local residents, do-it-yourselfers and schools giving us supplies. Anything we’re getting in, we’re sending it right back out to whoever needs it. First responders have what they need right now, we’re just trying to make sure our long-term care facilities get what they need.”

Lisa Solley and Guy D’Astolfo contributed reporting to this story.

Pictured: Juggerbot 3D has started work on face shields for use in medical centers. The shields will be attached to these headbands the company has 3D printed. Image via Dan Fernback, Juggerbot 3D.

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