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During the COVID-19 pandemic, community leaders in Little Rock joined forces to produce thousands of face shields for frontline workers battling the outbreak in central Arkansas.
UA Little Rock produced 250 face shields for health care workers at CHI St. Vincent hospital and various clinics in the area. The university built a 3D “print farm” on campus to manufacture the shields, with the Little Rock School District contributing 3D printers to the effort.
“Everyone wants to do what they can to provide the protection our health care workers need to respond to this crisis,”said Larry Whitman, dean of the UA Little Rock Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology.
In one day, UA Little Rock was able to deliver 100 shields to CHI St. Vincent.
Little Rock-based Lexicon Fabricators and Constructors used its machinery to make aluminum brackets to hold the shields in place, replacing a plastic product that had an unsatisfactory assembly time.
Lexicon CEO Patrick Schueck said he and the Lexicon team knew they had the skills and materials to make a part that was more durable than the plastic brackets that usually come with face shields.
“Our talented craftsmen and women go above and beyond every day,” he said. “When given the opportunity to partner with the Little Rock Regional Chamber to help protect frontline workers, we jumped at the chance. We knew 3D printers could only make one shield every six hours. That wasn’t sustainable or quick enough. So, within one evening, our team developed a process to build them in less than 15 minutes.”
Schueck said he was partly motivated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s comments during a press conference in which Cuomo complained of PPE shortages and “Don’t we make anything in America anymore?”
Mr. Plastics of Little Rock assisted with the face shield production and Sage V Foods, along with Lexicon, contributed significant funding.
ACI Plastics volunteered to help when finding large supplies of plastic for the shields proved difficult. The company tracked down 542 sheets in Houston, and they had to be purchased almost immediately because of demand, said Jay Chesshir, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock chamber.
“It’s really been a team effort all around,” Chesshir said of the entities involved.
Ultimately, with the process expanding beyond the 3D printing effort, there were enough shields to cover the major hospitals in Little Rock as well as provide the PPE for first responders. The goal was to have enough protective gear in time for the anticipated surge, which came in the fall.
“It’s important to prepare and make sure we have the gear the hospitals need,” Chesshir said.
Schueck noted the lesson learned by many Little Rock businesses during the pandemic: when times get tough and companies are called on to help, the innovation, know-how and effort exist to get the job done.
“I’ve always known what our folks do every day is incredible,” Schueck said. “But now our team realizes, and has seen firsthand, how they can use our talents to help others, both locally and globally. As this project illustrated, what we do can make a big impact.”