CORONAVIRUS

NewBoCo, local businesses, schools use 3D printers to make face shields for hospitals

'It's crazy how fast this moved': BeraTek Industries CEO

Gerald Beranek, owner of BeraTek Industries, modifies transparency film to fit into a prototype face field at NewBoCo in
Gerald Beranek, owner of BeraTek Industries, modifies transparency film to fit into a prototype face field at NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Using 3D printers on loan from the Cedar Rapids Community School District and an open-source pattern, NewBoCo printed dozens of shields, while several other prototypes were developed and printed at BeraTek Industries. The design will be finalized after consultation with area medical professionals. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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After the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics put out an “urgent request” on Sunday for donations of face shields — visors with plastic sheets covering the wearer’s face and mouth — to offset a national shortage during the COVID-19 outbreak, a group of Corridor business owners and health experts got together to see how they could help.

NewBoCo’s Executive Director Eric Engelmann said the UIHC’s Facebook post prompted him and eight others, connected through social media, to discuss logistics for making prototype shields — different designs for which are available online and can contain around six parts — using 3D printers.

“Part of the idea we had in our group of eight was, if things go badly and we need to make thousands of these or corral thousands of people and 3D printers all over the state, we’d have those communication channels built now that could be used if called upon,” Engelmann said Tuesday.

Over the following days, the group made contact with a range of other community helpers who in turn agreed to drop off parts — including plastic projector slides or elastic bands — or create them with 3D printers.

Gerald Beranek, founder and CEO of plastic injection molder BeraTek Industries of Cedar Rapids said he has made use of his company’s 3D printer, which can create about six plastic shield parts over a 13-hour period.

“It’s crazy how fast this moved from an idea on Sunday, and then Sunday night we had multiple people 3D printing these things,” Beranek recalled. “A lot of local community members have stepped up and are helping, which is awesome.”

The Cedar Rapids Community School District also loaned NewBoCo 13 new 3D printers, otherwise in disuse with district schools closed.

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Engelmann estimated there were about 40 3D printers across Iowa contributing to the face shield effort, capable of making parts for around 300 shields each day.

Prototypes for four shield variants were delivered to health care providers on Tuesday.

The goal, Engelmann said, is to distribute the face shields this week and get feedback from the health care organizations, including on which prototypes — if any — work best for clinicians and patients, before continuing production.

Beranek said the face shield parts would not be handled by anyone who is sick or has been contact with individuals who are ill, and will be sanitized before they’re given to health care organizations.

One benefit to the face shields, he continued, is that the plastic sheets could keep contaminants from reaching a medical worker’s face mask, letting the masks be reused multiple times. The sheets also could be removed and replaced on the shields if necessary.

Engelmann said the local face shields are not professional-grade products or intended as a permanent solution but rather a helpful stopgap measure.

“It sounds like there’s a pretty big hole to fill,” he said. “It sounds like they’re running out of these face shields and they need more, and we want to be ready if that’s the case.”

Organizations interested in helping with or requesting the face shields are asked to email ppe@newbo.co.

Last week, Swisher-based distillery Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery began using its warehouse to produce smaller containers of hand cleanser, to hand out free.

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Vice President Mike Pence said at a Saturday White House briefing that the federal government had ordered “hundreds of millions” of face masks, though neither Pence nor President Donald Trump would say when the masks would be ready, the New York Times reported.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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