PVNet 3-D Printers Set On Overdrive To Make Protective Face Shields
• Local nonprofit makes a difference for First Reponders with 3-D printed face shields
Since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in America back in March, healthcare workers have been on the frontlines to save lives from this disease in every waking hour. Yet, due to the overwhelming numbers of patients who have tested positive, the resources and equipment available to protect these workers from contracting the virus themselves has lessened.
Seeing this ever-demanding issue, PVNet founder and owner Ted Vegvari has stepped up to create reusable, 3-D printed face shields.
“All masks have been donated at no cost to healthcare workers, firemen, police officers, doctors, dentists, all of the above,” Vegvari said. “Sometimes, nurses and other healthcare workers would come into PVNet to pick up almost 100 of our face shields, and they are in tears.”
Vegvari began this project back in February, when he and his staff had to make a decision as the extent of COVID-19 became obvious: to either shut down their business to avoid losing more money or to attempt to persevere through the challenges that would come due to the virus. He ultimately chose the latter and, furthermore, decided to invest PVNet money into creating face shields for at-risk essential workers.
“At that moment, we made the decision to support essential workers of all types,” Vegvari said. “For instance, you would not think of police officers as healthcare workers, but, in reality, they are the first to arrive at the scene of people in medical distress, making them at a very high risk of contracting the virus.”
Vegvari’s mission with this project came with understanding and empathizing with the reality of the countless essential workers in the country. Despite the pandemic, these essential workers must continue to provide their services to the general public. Vegvari’s worry for these individuals is how exposed they are to the virus in their everyday life, especially when faced with people who are not following safety measures.
“If you are an essential worker, you have to go and help all of the individuals in need of your services, including those who are ignoring safety guidelines,” Vegvari said. “And, of course, all of these essential workers then could possibly bring the virus back home.”
These circumstances have given Vegvari and his team of volunteers a purpose to support these workers through face shields. One particular volunteer who, according to Vegvari, has been essential to the process is Jennifer Kao, who spearheads the outreach and scheduling effort of the project. Kao spends eight to 10 hours a day working on getting the word out for the project, such as sending emails and making phone calls. She also works with Vegvari on operating the GoFundMe, which covers approximately 20 percent of the project’s fees, with the other 80 percent out of pocket.
“Occasionally, Jennifer would have an assistant to help her out for about four to five weeks, but there is still a burden on her to manage all of that for eight to 10 hours per day,” Vegvari said. “Without her, simply put, people would not be able to find us.”
Along with Kao, there is a team of volunteers that create the face shields themselves, made up of primarily healthcare workers and college students.
One is Mei Mei Giang, a volunteer who works as an anesthesiologist. Mae comes in about five days a week, including weekends, for about four hours per day to coordinate the fabrication process.
Other volunteers include Audrey Elroi, a long-term member of the team, Kathy Barry, the head nurse of Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District (PVPUSD), Paula Borstel, an anatomy and chemistry teacher in PVPUSD, Garrett Potvin, a former intern at PVNet and currently an engineer who primarily works on the fabrication management of the 3-D printers, and Jack McDowell, a former NASA engineer who designed the two most recent versions of the face shields, one of them having hinges to flip when not in use.
“They are all an innovative bunch, to say the least,” Vegvari said.
To date, Vegvari and his team have made almost 10,000 shields in the past seven months, with approximately 1,000 shields distributed each week. At a given time, about 9,000 individuals are wearing Vegvari’s face shields.
However, this feat was not easy. In order to produce this number of face shields every week, Vegvari’s 3-D printers run 24/7 at maximum speed, which can cause substantial damage to their equipment and their financial status.
“[The work we are doing with the 3-D printers] is like turning your car on and leaving it running at full speed on the highway,” Vegvari said. “Because of this, parts [of the printer] sometimes fail or break, which is when Garrett steps in to fix them.”
Of course, this project has not been easy on PVNet. Due to the reduced number of students enrolling at PVNet due to the pandemic, along with 80 percent of the project’s budget coming from the team’s own pockets, there has been a significant financial loss.
Regardless, Vegvari hopes that he can get increased support from the Palos Verdes community to allow him to continue creating these face shields to protect the essential workers fighting every day.