In midst of PPE scramble, UW-Madison engineers collaborate with local companies to fill face shield shortage

// Mechanical Engineering

Tags: 2020, Faculty, News

Photo of medical face shield

The medical face shield created by UW-Madison engineers in collaboration with local companies. Photo courtesy of Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab (makerspace) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers are working with Madison-area manufacturers, the design consulting firm Delve, and campus colleagues on a product to help meet urgent and growing demand for medical face shields—which are key pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients.

Photo of Lennon Rodgers
Lennon Rodgers

The team expects to meet its initial target of fabricating 1,000 face shields for UW Hospital by March 21, with thousands more to come by the hour. It’s also planning to deliver samples to other local hospitals for user feedback.

The group also has published its design as open source and it is already being replicated by others across the world. (You can see the design plans here.)

Made up of Lennon Rodgers, director of the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab (makerspace) on the UW-Madison College of Engineering campus, and Mechanical Engineering Professor Tim Osswald; local manufacturers Midwest Prototyping, Placon, Plastic Ingenuity; and Minnesota-based Summit Medical, the team coalesced after an inquiry from UW Hospital to Rodgers on March 16, 2020.

Since then, it has built prototypes and launched a website where it’s encouraging healthcare facilities, manufacturers and donors to fill out an intake form to help assess need and build more connections while production capacity is rapidly expanded. Given that Lennon’s wife, Jennifer Rodgers, is an anesthesiologist at UW Hospital, the goals are partly personal for him.

Photo of Tim Osswald
Tim Osswald

“This is just one piece of the equation,” he says. “Hospitals need N95 masks and other critical equipment. Our aim is to provide the shields at cost and maybe free if donors step forward. We’d like to get 100,000+ packed up and shipped from Madison to hospitals in need ASAP.”

The group created a design based closely on the face shields currently in use at UW Hospital, and it has consulted throughout with Robert Scheuer, director of materials management at UW Health, to ensure the product is medical-grade quality.

Mass production isn’t a problem. Placon estimates it can churn out 5,000 plastic shields an hour, and Rodgers says assembly time to create the finished product, which entails adding an adhesive-backed foam strip and a latex-free elastic headband, takes less than 30 seconds for each unit.

At this stage, though, the team is still trying to gauge demand across the country and even beyond, and connect with specific healthcare facilities that are interested in ordering shipments of face shields. And Rodgers notes that other facilities, such as prisons and nursing homes, could also benefit from having shields as the virus continues to spread.

“We could almost certainly ship millions of face shields over time if we can put together the final pieces of manufacturing and distribution. Equally critical is continually identifying the hospitals that need the face shields.” he says.

Tim Osswald is the Consolidated Papers Foundation Chair sponsored by the Mead Witter Foundation.

If you would like to provide support to this effort, please click here to give to the Grainger Maker Space Fund.

Author: Tom Ziemer