In a region that’s no stranger to emergency response, pulling together as a community often helps Eastern North Carolina speed recovery from disasters like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. Working together can make each individual agency’s efforts stronger.
That community ethos is why Fleet Readiness Center East’s (FRCE) Engineering Innovation Lab has stepped up to produce medical face shields to supply health care workers in the local area. Starting this week, FRCE will begin delivering 3D printed headbands and face shields to local first responders and medical professionals.
The initiative is a natural extension of the commonalities between FRCE employees and local health care providers, said Mark Meno, director of the depot’s Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Engineering Department.
“These health care workers and many of us at FRCE share the responsibility of being part of a frontline workforce. In many ways, we have shared missions,” he explained. “We are used to having our employees go forward into hot spot areas to support the warfighter. Many of us are on-call to respond with short notice in times of crisis. In this case, our health care workers are operating today in a dangerous environment with a strained supply chain that is supposed to keep protective devices flowing to them.”
“These are our neighbors and our family members,” Meno said. “Utilizing our engineering resources to provide for that workforce is a natural response.”
“The basic goal is simple: to use our resources here at FRCE to help those in need who are on the front lines of the pandemic by manufacturing (personal protective equipment) that is difficult for them to source,” added Randall Lewis, innovation lead at FRCE’s Fleet Support Team Site Support Office. Lewis is leading the local effort, which is part of the larger Navy response to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Sites across the service have answered the call to produce face shields and other personal protective equipment for workers operating on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. A naval administrative message released April 3 authorized local commands to begin using additive manufacturing methods to support COVID-19 relief.
“It took us off the sidelines and got us into the game,” Meno said.
“Approved designs were released through (Naval Air Systems Command) for sites that desired to participate,” Lewis added. “Our leadership inquired about the possibility of helping, and I got a plan together, ordered materials and started making parts.”
Once the manufacturing plan was set in place, leaders next needed to identify where the face shields are needed most urgently.
“We know there is a huge need,” Lewis said, adding that it’s important to note there is no cost to the receiving organization for these PPE items.
FRCE’s Engineering Innovation Lab has four 3D printers working around the clock to meet the community’s PPE requirements.
“We are using the engineering-managed additive manufacturing equipment in the mobile FabLab and the Engineering Innovation Lab to make the headband portion of the face shield,” Lewis said. “Manufacturing is making the clear face shield. I will marry the two pieces together in my lab, add a strap, and they will be sanitized, packaged and sent out.”
The 3D printers take around three hours to produce each headband using a polylactic acid thermal plastic material, Lewis said, followed by about five minutes of post-processing to remove any burrs or sharp edges left behind by the printing process. The sanitation – done in accordance with Food and Drug Administration guidelines – goes fairly quickly, and the finished product is packaged with an adjustable strap. It is then ready to head to its final destination on the front lines of the nation’s COVID-19 response.
NAVAIR’s additive manufacturing team reviewed and developed a complete technical manufacturing plan to ensure that all shields produced are high quality and meet requirements. NAVAIR has provided the manufacturing plan to the community so everyone can make the shields, and has designed the plans to work using either polylactic acid or polyethylene terephthalate glycol plastics, so as many people as possible can make this PPE at home or work. Find the manufacturing plans online at https://www.navair.navy.mil/AM.
The Navy and Marine Corps have partnered with America Makes—a national manufacturing institute—to integrate government and commercial manufacturing capacity into a distributing manufacturing network to respond to urgent supply needs. The institute is coordinating the requests through its website at https://www.americamakes.us/.
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.
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For more news from Fleet Readiness Center East, visit www.navy.mil/.