May 18, 2020 (Courtesy of the Florida Times-Union) RenaissanceJax, a non-profit that helps young people in Northeast Florida realize opportunities involving robotics and STEM education, has formed a broad coalition of partners to manufacture and donate the materials to make face shields for doctors and nurses.
An extraordinary partnership of a Jacksonville non-profit devoted to offering young people opportunities in robotics and STEM education with local and national corporate partners and several other non-profits has resulted in a campaign to produce plastic face shields for use by doctor and nurses.
RenaissanceJax, formed seven years ago by University of North Florida and Stanton graduate Mark McCombs, delivered the first donation of face shields and headbands to UF Health Jacksonville on Thursday — 4,650 in all.
Along with the face shields, McCombs delivered a list of eight verified cleaning and sterilization procedures for the masks, which allow them to be used for extended periods of time.
“We were going through hundreds of shields per week,” said Chris Mele, UF Health’s director of supply chain. “Now, we can wipe these down. They’re not one-time throwaways.”
Mele said the shields add to the 30,000 the hospital already has in stock, which meets their current needs for treating not only COVID-19 patients but all patients. He said the shields will be especially useful in the fall when flu season and an expected uptick in COVID-19 cases returns.
“Supply levels are starting to get very healthy,” he said. “This helps the stock, absolutely. Right now we have exactly what we need.”
And what they got is the product of RenaissanceJax getting grants from partners such as Coca-Cola, Pilot Pens, Mobile Mini Solutions, Stenner Pumps, Bold City Brewery and the Chartrand Family Fund to increase production capability to 10,000 masks per week.
He’s even got elementary-school age children involved in the process.
McCombs said he has the raw materials, donated by Pilot, to make an additional 125,000 shields.
Like many involved in manufacturing and engineering, McCombs, who has a mechanical engineering degrees from UNF, wanted to do something to help once the coronavirus pandemic hit.
He had contacts in the Orlando “Maker Community” — an association of engineers and artists who share innovations — who asked him if he could use his engineering and robotics background to use plastics more efficiently to make shields for medical personnel.
At first McCombs turned to people in Jacksonville who had 3D printers. One those groups was Coding Sharks, a science and technology club for children between 7-13 years old formed by a group of parents in January, led by Ricky Thais and Kenneth Huffmann.
The group had eight 3D printers which were being used by the kids for projects. At first they could make two masks in 10 hours but Huffmann said it was a matter of adjusting the printers to avoid using excess material and soon they were down to producing one mask every 29 seconds.
But McCombs found a way to make the other part of the shields — the headbands — even faster.
Enter Stenner Pumps, which makes high-precision, flow-rate management systems for industrial applications. Stenner found a way to use projection molding to make the headbands, and began on Tuesday.
Two days later, they made the presentation to UF Health.
The parts are being made at Stenner, Coding Sharks, in the homes of McComb’s business partners and at his warehouse. All of the masks are made somewhere in Jacksonville and McCombs said they haven’t reached the peak of what they can supply.
“We can rapidly scale production capabilities to meet the real demand, which is still not known,” he said. “This collaboration is the meaning of the word ‘community.’ It is proving to the world the power of community. This will save lives, and that’s pretty real.”
McCombs said one key is making the production of face masks an integrated system. His goal is that all hospitals eventually use the same design.
McCombs also is thinking of his next project: finding a way to manufacture components for rapid testing systems for COVID-19. To that end, he is offering $10,000 to any group that can come up with an innovative idea.
He said he wants to develop a system that will enable First Coast health systems to test 1 million people.