The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) is rising to the national call for production of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) including face shields, masks, and mask assembly kits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The command produced thousands of masks and assembly kits, and hundreds of face shields for fleet users and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to date, including the first of 500 scheduled shields for sailors aboard USNS Comfort stationed in New York City to provide medical relief to overwhelmed hospitals and other fleet users performing aeromedical evacuation missions around the globe.
“While much of world steps back to combat COVID-19, our adversaries will not – nor will NAWCAD,” said Rear Adm. John Lemmon, commander of NAWCAD. “This combat support command continues to be collaborative and agile in response to the challenging circumstances facing our country.”
The command is also producing hundreds of face shields and masks in support of southern Maryland and Lakehurst community hospitals, nursing homes and other first responders.
In March, FEMA stood its supply chain task force to maximize the availability of protective and lifesaving resources in response to COVID-19’s pressure on the United States’ medical supply capacity. The effort solicited medical supply production from non-traditional manufacturers, and, in coordination with the DOD and NAWCAD.
“This warfare center is ready, and uniquely situated for urgent response to the nation’s PPE shortage,” said NAWCAD Executive Director Leslie Taylor. “Our talent of more than 10,000 engineers, scientists, testers and other professionals, plus our technology and facilities are ready to serve while our nation’s supply system catches up.”
The command is leveraging its workforce’s innovation, along with its prototype and production facilities across its sites at NAS Patuxent River and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to design, test and deploy face shields, face masks, and mask assembly kits. It also supported parent command NAVAIR’s development of the technical data packages instructing PPE design and logistics available now to the fleet, industry, academia, and communities equipped with resources like 3D printers.
NAWCAD’s Innovation Hub (iHub), a workforce collaboration space with engineering design tools and prototype resources like 3D printers, is the center for much of NAVAIR’s collective PPE efforts.
“The command came together at the iHub – on weekends no less – with the shared drive to preserve the safety and wellness of both our service members and Americans,” said Taylor. “Their altruism and dedication to country is at the heart of civil service.”
Engineers at the iHub iterated different versions of the face shields and masks before finalizing the technical data package with NAVAIR.
The facemask, which protects others from the users’ aspirations, was designed so the frame can be 3D printed and assembled with a disposable filter made from deconstructed 3M air filter material and shop towels.
The face shield protects the user from others’ aspirations and was also designed featuring a reusable frame that can be 3D printed with snap-on features for the clear acrylic barrier.
Touch labor for the fully assembled facemask designed in-house takes approximately 30 minutes per article. To expedite scale of production, the team is shifting toward assembly kits providing facemask part pieces for users to assemble themselves.
“It was incredible to see the team finalize the design and scale production capacity at the warfare center in just under two weeks,” said Lemmon. “While we’re seeing the national supply chain pick up, we’re ready to scale production and fill gaps quickly when the country calls on us amid whatever future uncertainty this virus brings.”
The team tested and distributed the first articles amongst some of the mission critical employees still working on site – military, civilian, and contractor employees charged with continuance of NAWCAD’s mission advancing capability and operational readiness for naval aviation.
“The sailors and Marines we support don’t get to take a pause,” said Lemmon. “They are still expected to be prepared and ready to defend our nation and its interests when called upon. It is paramount we do everything we can to support the fleet by finding unique solutions to ensure both their safety, and sustained mission execution.”
As the command works to preserve the safety and wellness of both Americans and service members, it is also planning for the return of its own workforce who are largely distributed in answer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) call for social distance.
“The safety of our greatest asset – our employees – is the top priority,” said Taylor. “NAWCAD sites will have centralized repositories for both PPE, and sanitization supplies available to all employees when they return to work. The command procured face masks, cleaning products, soaps, sanitizers, and enhanced cleaning services on a large scale from both large and small businesses.”
Taylor also emphasized they are carefully considering return-to-work timing ensuring it aligns with CDC, federal and state guidance.
“The acquisition and sustainment of Naval and Marine Corps capability is a weapon of war,” said Lemmon. “Our country is counting on us to stay safe, strong and united while we continue to provide our men and women on the front-line every advantage to fight and return home safely.”
NAWCAD supports the research, development, engineering, test and evaluation of all Navy and Marine Corps air vehicle systems and trainers. It is the Navy’s largest warfare center with facilities in Patuxent River, Maryland; Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Orlando, Florida, and delivers high quality, affordable products in support of military operating forces worldwide.
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