Members of the UNC Charlotte community have teamed up with local high school students and manufacturers to produce recyclable protective shields designed to extend the life of the disposable face masks used by health care workers combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
What started as a homegrown effort using a host of 3-D printers producing about 250 shields per week quickly escalated. Since March 30, the group, known as Charlotte MEDI, has been working with manufacturers like Texlon Plastic Corp. and Caro-Poly to create shields via injection molding that allow for a more aggressive production timeline. The injection molder can make four shields per minute versus four every eight hours in a 3-D printer. The group is producing more than 11,000 face shields per day, and the recyclable shield effectively extends the life cycle of a mask that otherwise is a one-time-use item. To put that number in context, LEGO, one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers is creating 13,000 face shields per day.
So far, the group has delivered more than 70,000 shields for local and national frontline health care professionals and are sharing what they’ve learned with researchers across the country as they prepare for patient numbers in their states to climb. UNC Charlotte faculty members continue to explore technology options to accelerate production, and so far have shared their work with states including Maine, Iowa, Colorado and California and countries including Germany, India and Ireland. They will ship orders soon to seven states.