A Shield Against COVID-19: Operation Shields Up aims to create at least 12,000 face shields

VIA <Comstock's Magazine>
<Graham Womack>

Alan Puccinelli has been sleeping two or three hours a night lately. He knows it’s not sustainable in the long term, but he’s trying to do what he can to help medical professionals on the frontlines as cases of coronavirus increase dramatically and more people need to be hospitalized for treatment.

“I look at that as trying to do my part in wartime,” Puccinelli says. “I don’t know if wartime is the right analogy, but you know what I mean: urgent times.”

Puccinelli, an Auburn resident and founder and CEO of 3D printing company Repkord, has been working tirelessly in recent days with other members of Hacker Lab, a coworking facility where he rents space in Rocklin, to create face shields for medical professionals treating COVID-19.

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The group is calling its effort Operation Shields Up, and it’s aiming to use 3D printing and injection molding to create the shields. It’s an untested effort, but could serve a vital need, with more than 46,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. as of March 24 and officials and health workers scrambling to find protective gear.

The New York Times reported on March 21 that protective N95 masks were in short supply and that the Trump administration was looking to potentially order millions. Puccinelli says he’s been getting contacted by emergency room doctors. “I have texts and emails and phone calls of like, ‘I need these yesterday. We’re making these out of cafeteria trays. We’ll take anything you’ve got,’” Puccinelli says.

Examples of the medical shields created by Operation Shields Up. (Photo courtesy of Alan Puccinelli)

Someone identifying themselves as an infection preventionist registered nurse from Mercy Hospital Folsom left a comment on a Facebook post by Hacker Lab about the project, asking how she could get some of the shields. Hacker Lab cofounder Eric Ullrich says another hospital in the San Francisco area was also among those who have expressed interest, saying, “These are kind of coming in from all over the place.”

Puccinelli, who has a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, is pushing to meet demand. He says he purchased enough materials — essentially, sheets of filament that can be fed into laser cutters — to create 12,000 face shields.

He’s been sourcing materials from Pro Plastics in West Sacramento. That said, Puccinelli’s also turning to others for assistance, partnering with Southern California-based Masks for Docs and having been retweeted about 1,600 times from a March 21 tweet asking for help from other 3D printers.

“By Wednesday, we could have thousands of these,” Puccinelli says. “If we get injection molding up by the end of next week, we’re talking about potentially a thousand a day. I’m more struggling with how do I keep the supply coming in of all the raw materials and volunteers here and all that other stuff.”

The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of N95 masks. (Photo courtesy of Alan Puccinelli)

Puccinelli says he hopes to scale his model through “what I call either distributed manufacturing or crowdsourced manufacturing.” He also says he’s looking to crowdsource donations, though, as of publication, a donation page didn’t appear to have been set up.

Aside from hoping to recoup $5,000 of his own money that he’s spent on materials, Puccinelli says he does not want to earn a profit on his work. “My motivation at the end of the day is for not just me, but as many people as possible to try to copy my model and get as many of these in the hands of first responders as possible,” Puccinelli says.

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