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America is working together to support the healthcare professionals on the front lines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. The federal government continues taking proactive steps to address the pandemic as the health and safety of the American people is a top priority.

Many manufacturers across the country are joining these efforts by pivoting their operations to make new equipment in response to needs from the healthcare community. Face shields are one of first lines of defense for the essential medical professionals working tirelessly to aid their communities.

In early March, professors and students in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Enhanced Preparation for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (EPICS) traineeship at Georgia Tech set out to develop and deploy a scalable manufacturing process for face shields that are low-cost, cleanable, and quick to produce. The team partnered with the local healthcare network to rapidly innovate and manufacture this equipment for the metro Atlanta medical community. So far, Georgia Tech has shipped more than 15,000 units to area hospitals and medical centers.

The face shields are manufactured in two parts: a reusable frame that holds the shield in place, and a film that protects the wearer’s face. The team started by using 3D printing to produce the reusable frames and then moved to waterjet cutting. To increase the rate of production, the students and faculty established designs suitable for injection molding that can produce 1,000 frames per hour. The team is also setting up high-rate die-cutting processes for the films.

EPICS students are also manufacturing entirely new equipment uniquely suited to meet healthcare challenges associated with COVID-19. For example, an EPICS student designed and built folding intubation boxes to protect doctors during procedures that comes with a high risk of exposure to the virus. The program has already delivered 10 intubation boxes to area hospitals.

The Georgia Tech team plans to continue leveraging nimble and innovative manufacturing practices – cornerstones of the EPICS approach to training the next generation of engineers – to supply needed personal protective equipment to local healthcare providers.

The team is also open sourcing their plans on the web so that others can produce face shields through the same process. The program anticipates supplying the local medical community on the order of hundreds of thousands of units through an agreement with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Learn more about this project by watching the Georgia Tech College of Engineering’s YouTube video, Face Shield Manufacturing at Georgia Tech.

The EPICS traineeship focuses on preparing the next generation of engineers in emerging digital manufacturing tools such as rapid prototyping and 3D printing. Established under the workforce development portfolio of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, the program seeks engineers that are well-suited to the data-driven future of innovative manufacturing. This program is currently in its second year, with the first year students set to graduate in May 2020.