Local healthcare workers have access to thousands of face shields thanks to a collaboration between the University of Cincinnati 1819 Innovation Hub and Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati.
The coronavirus pandemic created an immediate need for healthcare workers to use more personal protective equipment (PPE) to limit the spread of COVID-19 among themselves and their patients. Traditional suppliers had trouble responding to the sudden demand.
Innovative makers and manufacturers jumped into action to fill the gap. Among them were Ben Jones and his colleagues at the UC 1819 Innovation Hub. They were approached by UC Health and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to see if Jones and his team in the Ground Floor Makerspace could quickly design and produce PPE and rush it to healthcare workers on the frontlines.
“As we discussed the needs of the hospitals, we began developing prototypes in real time for feedback and evaluation,” Jones said. “Based on this feedback, we refined our designs to two face shield models: one reusable and one single use.”
The first approach was to use 3D printing. This is one of the newest innovations in manufacturing, but it can be time consuming. It could not be scaled to meet demand.
The next approach was to machine cut large sheets of material. This was the winning approach, allowing parts for a reusable shield to be manufactured in just two minutes. Parts for a disposable mask could be made in a minute.
Speed of making parts is one thing. Putting them together into a final product is another. “Assembly was a clear bottleneck in our process as it consumed a significant amount of our time. With limited staff, that meant a dividing time between production and assembly,” Jones said.
Facing a serious time crunch, Steven Doehler, an associate professor at UC’s Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) program and collaborator on the face shield designs, recalled that Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati operates a production and fulfillment center for the clinical research industry at its main offices just down the road from the 1819 Innovation Hub in Walnut Hills.
Within days of meeting with Jones and Doehler, the Easterseals production team reconfigured space to add a new assembly line dedicated to fulfilling orders for PPE. The last critical link the supply chain was soon in place, shaving at least two weeks off production time.
“We’ve brought in good, key people,” said Brenda Pierce, a 14-year employee of Easterseals. “When we’re finished here by the end of the week, we will probably have completed approximately 5,000 total shields for Cincinnati Children’s and UC.”
The project was especially important for Easterseals employees like Pierce, whose work has been disrupted by the coronavirus. She would normally be heading up transportation services for adults living with disabilities.
The addition of the face shield assembly line created a new work stream for Pierce and one of her part-time drivers, Chuck Geiger.
“I was surprised to get called back in so early, but I do appreciate the opportunity to work, get paid, and get back to some semblance of employment,” Geiger said. “Being able to contribute the bigger cause in our community is a great opportunity.”
Latasha Makeupson is another Easterseals employee who was temporarily reassigned to make the face shield collaboration a success. She would normally be working in Adult Day Services, but has been an important resource in getting PPE to hospitals. “It’s good to know I’m able to help in some type of way,” Makeupson said.
“We’re usually seeking volunteers to help us. I think this is a pretty awesome thing that Easterseals has done to volunteer our time to help out in the community,” Pierce said.
The face shields are already being put to use by healthcare professionals. The team at the 1819 Innovation Hub is getting high marks for their collaboration in the design process.
“Working hand in hand with the ICU team at UCMC during the design process was key,” said Ryan Collar, MD, Medical Director of Value Analysis at UC Health. “The shields were exceedingly well received due to their durability and reusability relative to the previous supply. There’s no substitute for going to the end user during design.”
“This collaboration clearly illustrates the meaningful purpose of UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub within the Cincinnati Innovation District as a connecting place for innovation,” said UC Chief Innovation Officer David Adams. “The organizations were able to generate ideas and solve a problem quickly resulting in a public health benefit, while working in physical and digital environments.”
“We were constrained in the numbers of staff and volunteers available to pull this together. Partnering with Easterseals was a huge help,” Jones said of the collaboration.
“We pride ourselves on speed at the 1819 Innovation Hub: speed to concept; speed to market; speed to serve industry partners to keep with the pace of change; speed to serve our community. Our partnership with Easterseals made an idea a reality and ensured we could deliver to those who needed our support.”