Brookline 3D-Printing Studio Transforms Into Factory for COVID-Fighting Face Shields

By Gaia De Simoni

Published on NBCboston.com

When Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all non-essential businesses in Massachusetts closed on March 24, a community “maker space” where members can 3D print, laser-cut, weave on a loom and do other large-scale crafts, found itself having to make a decision.

“It’s kind of a shock to your system when suddenly you realize in one week we’re closing and all of the people who are coming in to take classes and to be part of our community are not coming anymore,” said Hayley Greenberg, an engineer who co-founded The Makery at Coolidge Corner.

Greenberg and her team heard about the shortage of personal protective equipment for those on the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus and wanted to help. So they started researching what they could do to help the community using their skills and the resources at The Makery and at the Brookline Teen Center

“Everybody on our team just said, ‘We are not going to stop working and just sit here and do nothing,'” Greenberg said.

That led to mechanical engineer Maddie Jacks and electrical engineer Manny Cabanas, another Makery co-founder, developing medical face shields using the eight 3D printers and the laser cutter they have at the maker space.

After a first attempt with a model approved in Michigan and the Czech Republic, they moved to a National Institutes of Health-approved design that they said doesn’t expose health care workers to aerosol and splatter from in front and above the shield.

“We send it to one of our printers. They start to print it and about two hours later it’s completed,” Cabanas said. “3D printing is a slow process. When you have drastic times you need to go as fast as possible.”

The face shields components are 3D printed at the Makery. The process of printing can take up to two hours. Courtesy: The Makery

The team at The Makery transformed the Brookline Teen Center into a final-stage production facility after receiving permission to re-open it. Jacks put together a set of protocols, following recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, for how the team could work in the space safely. 

“There is a whole procedure for how everyone comes in and stays apart during the production process,” said Jacks, who is also operations manager at The Makery. “We also have a sanitization process for the parts that are going to be put into the facials.”

The face shield’s components are sanitized and assembled at the Boston Teen Center by the Makery’s team. Courtesy: The Makery

The Makery is collaborating with Masks for Docs, an organization of volunteers who provide protective supplies to health care workers, to distribute the masks. 

The Brookline Teen Center works as a hub for Masks for Docs, where face shield components made from different creators around the state, including The Makery, are delivered. There, the components are sanitized and assembled into a final product that Masks for Docs distributes to hospitals and smaller health care providers statewide. 

“To be able to offer Masks for Docs to be the hub for the places where everything can come into and then come out as a real product and go right to the hospitals feels amazing,” Greenberg said.

The Makery’s Brookline Teen Center was transformed into a sanitized and safe space for the final production steps of medical face shields. Courtesy: The Makery

While there’s no time to officially certify the face shields, Micah Nelson, the Massachusetts coordinator for Masks for Docs, said the makers the group is collaborating with are producing masks with designs approved by the National Institute of Health.

“The NIH is printing and testing face shields, like spraying water at them and motion tests to make sure they stay on,” Nelson said. “The things we are asking people to print are from the NIH review process.”

On Friday, Masks for Docs delivered the first 200 face shields assembled by The Makery to Boston University Medical Center and a nurse at a South Shore health care center.

The Makery is also partnering with a local luxury car detailing business to produce even more masks. The collaboration with JK Automotive Designs came together through Faith Michaels, who said she was inspired by a worried friend.

“A couple of weeks ago, a friend who is a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital called me crying because she wanted a face shield,” said Michaels, who runs a landscaping business and the clothes donation charity Kids Clothes Club in Brookline.

Michaels found Jeremy Katz, JK Automotive Designs’ owner, who pivoted his car detailing business to one that laser-cuts medical face shields for health care workers in the greater Boston area. Michaels now coordinates JK Automotive’s effort.

Once the components cut at JK Automotive are ready, Michaels delivers them to the Brookline Teen Center for assembly and packaging by The Makery’s team. The packages are then picked up by drivers and delivered to hospitals and clinics all over Boston.

“We delivered 300 face shields to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on Thursday and another 300 to Boston Medical Center on Friday,” Michaels said. “We are going to do every hospital.”

A delivery of 300 face shields arrives to Dana-Farber Cancer Insitute in Boston on Friday, April 10, 2020. Courtesy: Faith Michaels

The Makery plans to assemble 1,000 face shields per week for Masks for Docs and 10,000 to 20,000 for JK Automotive. It’s an assembly line put together with the help of greater Boston area communities to fight together against COVID-19.

“What happens in China or in Africa impacts us here, here in Coolidge Corner. We’re not immune, no matter your wealth or your status,” Manny Cabanas said. “We are not isolated, we’re connected.”

The team at the Brookline Teen Center assembles JK Automotive Design face shields who will be delivered to Boston hospitals. Courteesy: Faith Michaels

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