Nationwide shortages of critical healthcare equipment have been a cause for grave concern over the past few weeks. As health experts anticipate a significant spike in COVID-19 cases over the next month, hospitals are desperate to find new ways of acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE). Researchers at Georgia Tech are working rapidly to create healthcare gear with materials they already have in stock. Thus far, the team has made 1000 face shields using methods that include 3-D printing and plan to make thousands more as kits that hospitals can assemble themselves. As a result of discussions with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory Healthcare and Piedmont Healthcare, the Georgia Tech team developed several face shield designs that can help protect clinicians from splashes and prolong the lifespan of soft respirators.
“The Georgia Tech mechanical engineering team is working to modify open source face shield designs so they can be manufactured in high volumes for the rapid response environment that COVID-19 requires,” said Christopher Saldana, an associate professor in the Woodruff School at Georgia Tech in a news release. “Our team has modified these designs using a range of product and process optimization methods, including removing certain features and standardizing tool use. By working on cross-functional and cross-disciplinary teams and directly involving healthcare practitioners and high-volume manufacturers, we will be able to respond to this effort at the scale and speed required.”
Due to supply chain challenges, the team is trying to find material alternatives as a result of shortages that began when other countries such as China, Italy and South Korea began dealing with the crisis. “Countries on the trailing end of the pandemic are facing supply chain issues that countries with earlier pandemics didn’t have to face,” stated Michael O’Toole, executive director of quality improvement at Piedmont and a Georgia Tech engineering graduate. “We’ve got to get these supplies, and it’s a critical need already. If we can’t get them from commercial or government sources, we’re going to have to make them ourselves.”
The team is working on solutions for shortages of the following products:
- Face shields
- Disinfecting wipes (i.e., materials to make the wipes isn’t the issue—it’s the fact that it is difficult to source industrial- or commercial-sized containers to hold the product)
- Respirators (i.e., creating filters similar to N95 filters from “homemade” products)
The researchers are aware that their prototype production equipment will not be able to meet the demand for all of these critical products. As a result, they will be making their ideas and plans available to the greater community to assist with this need. They have also launched a rapid response website in order to help solicit materials and quantify the demand for face shields.