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Flint, MI — At Factory Two, a “makerspace” on North Grand Traverse Street, members pay a monthly fee to use machinery and tools that give their ideas life. They can 3D-print their favorite Pokémon. Or sew a dress at the fashion station. Or even broadcast a live TV show.
However, due to COVID-19 and social distancing requirements, attendance has died down at the factory—but “making” hasn’t. Staff and volunteers now use the shop’s tools to make face shields and other personal protective equipment for the Flint community.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the U.S. has suffered a shortage of PPE. While access to critical supplies like surgical masks and respirators has improved, PPE still sits at top of the Food and Drug Administration’s “device shortage list.”Factory Two is helping meet this need.
“Back in March, makerspaces around the country were starting to do PPE production; face shields, masks, different pieces to make face masks more comfortable. So, we started copying their designs,” said Craig Farrington, manager of Factory Two.
They experimented with different modes of production for face shield brackets, the band that rests on the wearer’s forehead and where the clear shield snaps into, Farrington said. Laser cutters were too slow but eventually, they found a design that could be produced faster on their ShopBot CNC machine.
CNC machines (computer numerical control) are programmed to drill, cut and carve products from materials at high speeds. “Once we figured out that we could do it we started using this stuff called HDPE, it’s the same plastic used in milk cartons,” said Farrington.
One 4×8 foot sheet of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) can make 139 face shield brackets. The shop produces about 600 each week.
“[The sheet] is mounted onto the ShopBot using plastic nails shot out of an air compressor-powered nail gun. We built a ‘mask’ with holes marking the nailing locations, so no measurements need to be done between each run,” said Warren McClure, a blacksmith and instructor at Factory Two.
In total, the makerspace has made over 5,000 face shields since March, many of which were donated. “The demand was really high back in May and June. We were doing distributions to the public,” Farrington said, adding that many of the people coming in were from the medical community.
Now, county clerks and other organizations from all over the state are placing large orders, he said, adding that the face shields are still free to community members who need only one or two.
The CDC recommends wearing face shields in conjunction with face masks. Currently, there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields to prevent the spread of COVID-19 if worn on their own. However, face shields are effective for eye protection.