Manufacturers Unite Online Amid Global Medical Supply Shortage

In addition to wreaking havoc on economies and livelihoods worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). The World Health Organization has called for an 40% increase of manufacturing of PPE, such as face masks, face shields, respirators and body suits, since healthcare workers rely on these products to protect themselves as they treat the infected.

In a press conference on March 23, California Governor Gavin Newsom estimated his state alone would seek out hundreds of millions of PPE units on the open market. “I’m going to be liberal on these numbers,” Newsom said. “One billion gloves to procure, 500 million N95 masks, some 200 million shields—you get the picture.”

On the other side of the United States, David Wolf, owner of Wolf Vinyl, a fencing manufacturer located in Bradenton, Fla., wants to join the fight. His mission: producing face shields at his facility.

Wolf’s co-extrusion facility, armed with a 90-mm and a 114-mm line, can produce 1,600 lb of vinyl fencing an hour, and according to an online post, he estimated the facility could produce approximately 1,800 shields per hour.

Co-extrusion is a process in which a profile has two layers. The outer layer (capstock) is composed of a protective material, while the inner layer (substrate) is made of a material for flexibility and strength. This process allows for cheaper material costs over its counterpart method, mono-extrusion.

Wolf admits it is difficult to fund the project while maintaining his business in this slower economy. “We have the materials identified. We have the ability to produce using a modification of our current die set, but it would be an inferior product,” he explained. “If we were going to do this, I was hoping to find some tool and die contacts.”

Wolf said the most important part of the process is finding a purchaser in the medical industry. This is a common stumbling block those who want to help have encountered.

So how can you connect manufacturers and machinists to designers and engineers, and then to hospitals or medical device distributors?

Enter: Facebook.

The manufacturing and researching communities are coming together to combat these shortages by creating PPE designs available to the public. In one case—a Facebook group called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies—a collection of more than 61,000 people are banding together to share and collaborate on projects to help these shortages.

This is where Wolf came. And he’s not here alone.

In a member poll released on March 29 by Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies group administrator Gui Cavalcanti, it was estimated the people involved in the Facebook group had produced more than 733,000 medical devices worldwide, with California receiving the most items at more than 560,000 units.

Items produced include surgical masks, face shields, N95 masks, fabric masks, hard shell respirators and hand sanitizer. The files tab in the group is home to dozens of PDF and STL (3D model file extension) files that serve as resources, guides and 3D printable medical products.

“During WWII, it really was everyone coming together, and industries getting on the bandwagon to align their interest in tackling a much bigger problem,” said Wolf. “If you are not willing to help people, why did you spend all that time and effort trying to become successful?”

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