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Local Businesses Step up to Help During Shortage of Personal Protection Equipment

Saturday, April 4, 2020 @ 12:04 AM

Posted by Chris Rossetti

Wenner and CarbaughCLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Innovation has always been a part of the American way, and in this time of COVID-19 that is no different.

(PHOTO: Ryan Wenner (right) and his girlfriend, Jessica Carbaugh (left) display one of the face shields produced by Seneca Woodworking. Submitted photo)

Many local companies have stepped forward and changed their normal production to producing products to help in the fight against the disease.

Three local companies who are busy producing face shields for local and national healthcare workers include Clarion-based Seneca Woodworking, Vinyl Graphics Unlimited in Shippenville, and Matrix Group of Seneca.

“There are a lot of different people coming up with open-source designs for personal protection equipment (PPE),” Ryan Wenner, owner of Seneca Woodworking, said. “Things like respirators, facemasks, and ventilators.”

According to Wenner, a Clarion resident and a graduate of Cranberry Area High School, many businesses across the country are stepping up in the fight.

“With all this stuff, there is no broad regulatory approval,” Wenner said. “It is basically people saying that as opposed to people dying here is what people can make to help hospitals.”

Wenner said Seneca Woodworking decided on making face shields based on a couple of different factors.

“We have 3D printers and laser cutters,” Wenner said. “It is easy for us to make clear face shields for healthcare workers and others that are working with people who may have the disease. I started reaching out to local healthcare providers and printed a prototype.”

Gary Wiant, of Vinyl Graphics, said the idea of making his face shielders came about after talking to a friend of his in Maine.

“We both do the same thing,” Wiant said. “We were discussing trying to stay above water with the whole lockdown. A couple of days passed, and he messaged me and said he had a way to help with the fight against the virus and stay in business. He sent me the files, and we made some modifications. We are selling them at a much-discounted rate and just trying to help everybody.”

Both Seneca Woodworking and Vinyl Graphics Unlimited have quickly found a need for their products.

For Seneca Woodworking, that includes UPMC.

According to Wenner, with the help of his girlfriend, Jessica Carbaugh, who used to work for the American Cancer Society and is now a teacher, he was able to make connections with UPMC Seneca to approve the design and ensure that the need was truly there.

“UPMC wanted to buy some,” Wenner said.

Wiant’s customer base has been mainly nursing homes, doctor’s offices, and dentist offices.

“We have had really good luck getting our shields out there,” Wiant said. “We have had several doctors’ offices, dentists, and hospitals who want to buy them. Nursing homes are the big one for us, and we have had some fire departments and police departments contact us as well. It’s been well received so far.”

In order to produce more shields, Wenner has solicited the help of local schools and is looking to get the community more involved.

“We have had a lot of help from the community,” Wenner said. “Redbank Valley, Union, and Clarion Area are loaning us 3D printers.”

According to Wenner, Jamey Cyphert from Union, Jill Boyles from Redbank Valley, and Clarion Area Robotics have all helped coordinate that.

“Garage N Go also donated space for us,” Wenner said. “And, we are still looking for help. We are assembling a network of people in the region with the tools and the ability to help with this effort. Anyone with a 3D printer or CNC laser cutter willing to help can sign up for more information at www.madeinclarion.org. This website will serve to document the project as it moves forward and ultimately becomes a resource for manufacturing in the region.”

Wenner said the website is also where anyone interested in buying the face shields should go, as well.

“Right now, it is just a google form that either a healthcare organization that needs the shields or a person with a 3D or laser cutter who wants to be a part of the project can go to. It will collect information from both types of people.”

Wiant said one of his biggest challenges right now is getting materials to make the shields.

“All of our suppliers are different,” Wiant said. “None of the sign suppliers we use have the materials we needed, and we didn’t typically buy elastic or foam. The supply line was the biggest issue, and it is still the hardest because everyone is trying to make these. It is taking some searching to find the right place to get stuff.”

Gary Wiant of Vinyl Graphics Unlimited models one of his face shields. Submitted photo

Gary Wiant of Vinyl Graphics Unlimited models one of his masks. Submitted photo

Wenner also said the supply chain can be an issue.

“What we are finding is the source materials for 3D printers are like toilet paper,” Wenner said. “There are more and more people doing this, and we are running out of the stuff we need.”

According to Wiant, he is still refining his shield design.

“We are still trying to fine-tune it,” Wiant said. “We just redesigned the mask Friday (April 3) due to customer requests. I am 6-foot-7, and when I use the mask it looks right on me, but everyone is saying that it is too long. So, we shortened it up a few inches. We also, on the sides, made it a little wider to wrap around the side of the face a little more. I was also talking to some nurses online (Thursday night), and they said the masks rub their ears real bad because they are wearing them all day long. We are trying to figure out a way to install buttons on the head straps of the mask, so they can hook the button rather than going on the ears. Basically, if someone calls and says we have smaller people and need smaller masks or they need something else, we can make them whatever they want. We are not locked into any stock size. We are using all raw materials. There are no pre-cut shields.”

Wiant said that if he can get the supplies, once everything is set up, he could probably make around 100 shields each day.

“We are also looking to do some stuff on our CNC laser, as well – possibly cutting strap clips and mask clips,” Wiant said.

Wenner said it is important that businesses make sure there is a need for the product before making the product.

“It is super important to check and see first that you have a recipient,” Wenner said. “Check with a hospital, a doctor’s office that they approve of what you are producing.”

Ryan Wenner of Seneca Woodworking works on making one of the face shields. Submitted photo

Ryan Wenner of Seneca Woodworking works on making one of the face shields. Submitted photo.

Just getting products to those who need them has become tougher, according to Wenner.

“Logistics are a lot harder now because delivery carriers don’t want to go to medical facilities,” Wenner said.

“Facilities have to ship things to a secondary facility and then have their own employees go there and disinfect them and transport them. If you print something that isn’t actually useful, it strains the supply chains.”

Both Wiant and Wenner said helping out at a time like this is more than just about them.

“We could sit home and not do anything, or we could stay here and get stuff caught up,” Wiant said. “But, you want to be more of the solution. You want to be able to help where you can help. Not everybody can make shields.”

For Wenner, it is personal, as he has family members whose immune systems are compromised.

“Jess is autoimmune compromised and there are other health problems in my family,” Wenner said. “I have to be aware of that. Hopefully, we don’t see a major catastrophe or tragedy locally, but we have to be mindful of that. I asked what can I do to help the situation. The alternative is to sit back and collect an unemployment check and binge watch Netflix. That is not my style.”

MATRIC GROUP SENDING PROTECTIVE FACE GEAR TO NEW YORK

While Vinyl Graphics and Seneca Woodworking are examples of local smaller companies helping the cause, a bigger regional company has also stepped to the forefront.

The Matric Group, located in Seneca, is an electronics contract manufacturer that is now using its 3D printers to building personal protective face equipment to assist in the current shortage of medical supplies due to COVID-19.

“The first donation will ship to New York Presbyterian Hospital where over 48,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported by Thursday (April 2) morning,” a release from the company said.


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