Artisan’s Asylum Volunteers & Fabricators Begin Mass Production of Disposable Face Shields & More

DATE:  March 31, 2020     CATEGORIES:  COVID-19

This week at Artisan’s Asylum, our fabricators continue their work, creating personal protective equipment (PPE) for local medical providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Face shields, disposable masks, surgical gowns—these supplies are of vital importance to local healthcare workers and are at varying stages of production and development at our facilities. 

Last Friday—within days of learning that PPE was needed for healthcare workers—the Artisan’s community achieved an important milestone: the delivery of 100 disposable face shields to a local hospital. With this achievement, our next phase of production begins, as volunteers assemble the remaining 900 units of our first 1,000-unit order. Delivery of this first order is expected on Wednesday, April 1. Now that our fabricators have demonstrated their ability to produce high-quality units of tested prototypes, production is ramping up. The volunteers hope to produce as many as 100 units per day with a crew of 6–10 working in three shifts. Our audacious goal is to be able to make 1,000 units per day as the pandemic peaks in the region. 

Volunteers at work sanitizing and packaging disposable face shields

The response from the local hospitals has been very positive, says Artisan’s Board Member Nicholas Warren, who is coordinating with hospitals. The hospitals are impressed with the quality of the supplies being produced at Artisan’s, which are equal to the products currently in use in hospitals around the country, he notes.  

Volunteers and fabricators at the Asylum are using their skills to help in any way they can. True to the maker ethos, Artisan’s members are meeting milestones and moving PPE production forward—even reverse engineering PPE that is typically manufactured overseas. 

Disposable Face Shields: Production of disposable face shields is ramping up. After the delivery on Wednesday, our talented team expects to continue making disposable face shields at a rate of 100 shields per day this week, with the final goal of reaching 1,000 units per day by next week. 

At present, we’ve received orders totaling 2,000 disposable face shields, and more are sure to be needed. 

Reusable Face Shields: Currently, the development of the production process for reusable face shields has entered final stages, with production expected to begin by the end of the week. 

A team of designers led by Artisan’s member Nik Lal are using laser cutters from our partners at Black Cat Labs to refine a design that can be sterilized. This “homebrewed” design is based on a laser cut shield developed by Scale Workspace in New Orleans and uses materials compatible with every step of the sanitization process. 

“Consequently, these shields can be reused,” says Nik. “For the time being, only a few medical facilities are interested in reusing their shields. But as the pandemic continues, supply chains will continue to be stressed. If a shortage of constituent materials for the disposable shield occurs, our shield has the potential to fill that gap.”

Disposable Surgical Masks: Artisan’s members developing surgical face masks have 3D-printed dozens of components for a pleating machine that will fold the masks. Led by member Tim Butterworth, parts are being rapidly made, tested and adapted to develop an efficient manufacturing process. This week, the team expects to complete the final assembly line, which will take the raw materials and output finished masks, requiring a single step of human labor to attach earloops. The goal is to eventually produce 10,000 masks per day. 

“We’ve designed the machine with material flexibility in mind,” says Tim, who notes many of the supplies used to create masks and other PPE are back ordered. “We are exploring several alternative material sources. Luckily, the Asylum was already well-stocked with automation components and machine hardware—not to mention fabrication tools.”

If you have access to production materials or resources, please contact Tim Butterworth at tbutters@gmail.com

Disposable Hospital Gowns: Last week members successfully digitized two gown designs and created DXF files that can be used to cut materials on as many types of machines as possible. These files will be sent to makers spaces throughout Boston and nationally. 

This week, led by Artisan’s member Sarah Miller, the team has prepared two gown prototypes to present to Boston-area hospitals: one optimized for less material waste, and one optimized for ease of manufacturability. The production process is still in development and moving ahead quickly.

Despite the challenges—both personal and manufacturing-related—being faced here, our members and volunteers are staying upbeat. “We have had an incredible outpouring of support and are excited to be working with everyone who has made themselves available,” says Sarah, “There’s a lot of energy, a lot of goodwill [for this project] … Expectations are reasonable. Spirits are high.”

These volunteer efforts need support to scale up and continue the mission of keeping members of our local medical community safe. In the coming days and weeks, Artisan’s Asylum will need to place large orders for materials to build up inventory and meet demand. Our volunteers will be working regular shifts to maintain a reliable PPE production schedule. We will also need innovation funds to support equipment, parts and materials. Since these efforts began, we are grateful for the donations we’ve received to support our work. 

Volunteer packaging disposable face shield masks

“It is absolutely extraordinary to see how our community has rallied around the COVID-19 response,” says Executive Director Lars Hasselblad Torres. “In a matter of fewer than two weeks, we have seen a broad, globally-connected learning effort zoom to the local level and begin providing point solutions to our front line medical workers. If this kind of connected collaboration doesn’t signal the very best the maker movement has to offer, I can’t imagine what would. I send a full-throated ‘thank you’ to our volunteers and staff who are working triple-time to meet the challenge.”

 If you are interested in contributing financially to our efforts, please visit https://artisansasylum.com/donation and flag your contribution as a COVID-19 Response donation.