The email came at one in the morning in late March from the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. They, like many hospitals across the country, were rapidly running out of the PPE gear that frontline healthcare workers relied on as they fought the growing COVID-19 pandemic. The message describing the shortage was sent to ArtCenter students James Gildea, Hon Li, and Tricia Sada, ending with a question: “Any chance you and your friends can help make them?”
With COVID-19 infection rates skyrocketing, the trio had no time to waste. They assembled a team of fellow students and set up base in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse, previously used to design and produce orthopedic inserts. They directed their focus on 3D-printed PPE face masks and called their operation Shieldmakers.
The team poured themselves into the project, working seven days a week. Their goal was to develop a design that protected workers while being sturdy enough to undergo the hospital’s equipment sterilization process. Volunteers and donated equipment and materials poured in, bolstering their efforts. Once they had successfully finalized the design, they fired up a small army of 3D printers and production began in earnest.
Within the first month, 900 masks were made and sent out to hospitals across Southern California. Once at full capacity, the team is expecting an output of 300 to 400 masks a day. Early prototypes went out to doctors at Huntington Hospital, and when they asked for feedback the only message they got back was: “Please send more.”
In this time of crisis, it’s encouraging to see some of the brightest minds in Pasadena come together, merging technology, innovation, and compassion to protect the healthcare workers on the frontline of the ongoing pandemic.
Images: Courtesy Art Center College of Design