In the midst of a pandemic, a helping hand can change the world. No one knows this better than the engineers working at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies’ Morristown and Shelbyville manufacturing facilities in Indiana.
When the region’s local hospital, MHP Medical Center, sent out a desperate request for protective glasses for doctors and nurses working with COVID-19 patients, Shelbyville Engineering Manager, Gary Burton, reached out to Morristown Growtth Engineer, Jacob Clark, to collect as many glasses as possible.
Employees in both locations scoured the plants for extra goggles and within 24 hours, dropped off close to 100 pairs of the essential safety gear at the hospital.
This initial act of kindness became an inspiration to Clark. What else could the plants do to help people on the front lines in caring for pandemic victims? Clark began to investigate ideas on the internet, and then discovered plans for manufacturing face shields from available materials in combination with the use of additive manufacturing (3D) printers.
“This company had posted design guidelines and assembly instructions for making a face shield including plans to manufacture the visor portion using a 3D printer. They were encouraging anybody with a 3D printer to try to make these masks,” Clark said.
During the past 18 months, Clark and the Morristown engineering team had been using the plant’s 3D printer to mold trial fixtures for Kaizen projects and other product development projects. He knew the plant could help to fill the face shield void.
Clark enlisted two other plant employees to help get the project up and running. Josh Jones, a tooling engineer in Morristown and the plant’s resident 3D printing expert, helped Clark download the visor design and optimized it so that visors could be printed faster. McKinnen Flannery, a third-year coop student who is studying to be a manufacturing engineer, also joined the project to help keep the printer running and troubleshoot issues. Plant management gave an enthusiastic “Go!” to the team.
A prototype face shield was first approved by the hospital’s board, and then the Morristown team was redirected to the Shelby County Health Department in order to distribute the masks for healthcare workers in assisted living facilities where no masks have been available.
To date, the plant has delivered 20 kits that include the visor, the face shield and straps made of stretchy material. The team can print three visors in about 12 hours. They are on schedule to deliver a total of 60 during the next few weeks and will continue to make more if they are needed.
“You can use just about any printing material to make the visors — we are using any spare plastic spools that we have lying around,” Clark said. “We have gotten really creative with what we use.”
Clark sent the instructions and plans for making the face masks to all of his Growtth colleagues across North America. He is hopeful that other plants will also launch face shield production and has already received a few calls from other locations asking for more information.
“This has been a team effort and I am hoping that other plants will jump in to help their local communities like this,” he said. “It’s been an interesting time, and I just want to make sure we are supporting our communities in a way that makes a difference.”
At the intersection of innovation and generosity, you can always find a Freudenberg engineer.
Freudenberg Sealing Technologies
Filed Under: Hack the Crisis: Engineering through COVID-19