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When local agencies saw a need for protective face shields, Fleet Readiness Center East stepped up to answer the call. A small team of FRCE engineers recently 3D printed, assembled and delivered more than 700 face shields to area medical professionals, first responders and educators. This brings the total number of face shields manufactured by FRCE and distributed in the community to more than 1,250 since the initiative began in mid-April.
“I’m extremely proud of our team for creating more than 1,200 face shields for first responders and other essential personnel in our area,” said Chris Holder, Fleet Support Team site lead at Naval Air Systems Command’s In-Service Support Center at FRCE. “We have always provided Navy and Marine Corps fleet support to our military first responders all over the world, and I think it is great that we were able to support our community, as well.”
FRCE received the orders through the “America Makes Responds” web portal. The portal is an initiative put forth by America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, and Veterans Administration. It collects submissions from organizations in need of medical PPE, manufacturers with 3D printing capabilities, and designers willing to share 3D designs.
“The portal is great because it allows the requestor to choose from a variety of PPE items that they may need,” said Randall Lewis, the FST Innovation Lab lead who spearheads the face shield manufacturing effort at FRCE. “So even if we cannot make all the items they need, America Makes will reach out to other PPE suppliers to find someone who can meet their demand.”
The face shields took about three weeks to make, Lewis said. He and Ken Murphy, an engineering technician with the FST’s Aircraft Technology Team, printed the headbands, processed them to remove any burrs or rough edges, sanitized the product in accordance with FDA guidelines, and packaged them with an adjustable strap. Recent upgrades to equipment in the Innovation Lab helped speed up the manufacturing process.
“We have some new machines in the Innovation Lab that have drastically reduced our production time of the 3D printed headbands,” Lewis explained. “We were always planning on purchasing them this fiscal year, but the acquisition was expedited due to COVID. They have allowed us to be much more agile in response to requests for face shields.”
Changes in the face shield design also helped cut production time. While the first sets of face shields manufactured at FRCE used polyethylene terephthalate glycol sheets for the shield, the new plans call for acetate – the office supply commonly referred to as a transparency. Where the old material came in large sheets that FRCE’s production team had to cut using a water knife, the new acetate sheets come ready to mount.
“These are much easier to source and produce,” Lewis explained. “And they attach to the headband with a standard office three-hole-punch pattern, so the end user can make their own replacements.”
Lewis said he’s proud to work for an organization that provides support to the community during times of need.
“It’s a great feeling to know we are involved in helping our local community deal with the COVID 19 crisis,” he said. “FRCE is such a huge part of the culture and community in eastern North Carolina; it is nice to know we can give back to help those groups who are directly dealing with the impacts of COVID in our area.”
FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $835 million. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.
John Olmstead, Fleet Readiness Center East Public Affairs Officer
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