Texas A&M Engineers Manufacture Face Shields For Baylor College Of Medicine
As members from around Texas A&M Engineering come together to find ways to help the community deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the team in the SuSu and Mark A. Fischer ’72 Engineering Design Center (FEDC) in the Zachry Engineering Education Complex is working around the clock to make solutions to those needs a reality.
The design center’s skeleton crew of essential research members last week kicked off a project to provide the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston with 3,000 face shields to help protect its medical workers while treating sick patients.
To help meet the health care provider’s urgent need, the team at the design center had to innovate – their specialty.
Starting with a face shield design made publicly available by the Georgia Institute of Technology, the team worked to modify the design to work with the materials they had available. The main challenge for completing the face shield design – essentially a re-sizeable headband with a curved plastic sheet covering the user’s full face – was in finding a way to use a thicker plastic than is typically utilized.
David Staack, director of engineering laboratory instruction, said due to supply shortages, staff technicians had to find a way to make the design work with the materials they had on-hand – including supplies he had available in his research lab as well as those able to be sourced from the College of Architecture.
“It was, ‘What materials do we have?’ This is something where the technicians figured this out,” Staack said. “They know these machines; they know these materials. We can work with the materials we have on-hand and make a nice durable shield. The staff here is all behind that kind of mentality of, ‘Let’s turn around a product and let’s get it back into people’s hands.’”
Within a week of Baylor College of Medicine’s request, more than300 face shields were delivered, with the remaining less than 2,700 units on schedule to be delivered by the end of April.
Staack, who also serves as associate professor and the Sallie and Don Davis ’61 Career Development Professor in the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering, said typically during this time of year, the design center would be operating at full capacity helping students complete their senior design projects. With all classes going online in March due to COVID-19, the team has extra capacity. Given their experience aiding thousands of students each semester with a wide variety of projects, the design center staff is well suited to take on the task at hand.
“The crew here is working very hard,” Staack said. “We’re doing a public service. And in this case, with the immediate need, where we’re providing something that may protect somebody from getting COVID-19 or may directly go into a patient’s hand, I think it’s more of this great sense of purpose that they come in with every day.”
Without the typical student projects to work on, Jim Wilson, general manager of the Fischer Engineering Design Center, said he and his team are glad to have found another way to be of service during these trying times.
“We miss the students, but what we’re doing right now, we know is helping a lot of people,” Wilson said. “The COVID-19 projects are our top priority right now and it’s a team effort.”
Wilson said technical laboratory coordinators Adam Farmer and Todd Williams are part of the team – including Nathan Panak, Cody Ricther, Brey Caraway, Richard McCalley, Iran Ramirez and Tobias Gualandri – that has stepped up to help lead the efforts to fulfill the design center’s mission through the production of the face shields, as well as several other projects currently in progress.
Both Farmer and Williams said getting the ability to contribute in some way to those on the front lines of treating sick patients is an incredibly rewarding experience.
“It’s nice to know that we’re doing something,” Farmer said. “You see all kinds of stuff online and on TV of people just trying to do something to help. For us to be able to do something and know that what we’re doing is going to people who are doing more good than we are, to help them is a happy feeling.”
As the staff at the design center continues to bring these impactful projects to fruition, Staack said they are also a part of a wider Texas A&M community coming together – from loading dock attendants to members of the legal team – to make sure these pieces of equipment make it to those in need.
“The impact is obvious and everyone is behind it, so it’s been very nice to see, very inspiring,” Staack said. “It’s been inspiring to see how people have come together to try to solve these problems.”