Akron Hospitals Receive First Delivery of Face Shields Distributed in Ohio

Akron - Wednesday, more than 4,000 locally produced face shields were delivered to the Summit County Public Health Department and local hospitals in the area through a partnership with The University of Akron, the City of Akron, and Lighter Than Air’s (LTA) Akron operations.

The partners expect to manufacture and deliver up to 45,000 face shields in Ohio in the coming weeks, in order to meet the urgent demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) in local hospitals, for health care providers, and other community institutions.

The Akron research team for LTA, an aerospace research and development company, is led by Nicholas Garafolo, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering at UA, and includes a group of talented undergraduate research assistants, students working on co-ops, graduate students, and a number of alumni from UA’s College of Engineering.

When the City of Akron and others identified the emerging need for PPE in hospitals and other medical facilities managing an influx of COVID-19 patients, the company prototyped and began producing face shields, designed to protect the face, mouth, nose, and eyes of first responders, hospital staff, and other frontline workers.

Garafolo’s team, led by 2019 UA aerospace systems engineering graduate Luke Held, rapidly prototyped a face shield based on open-source designs. Using their manufacturing capabilities, the team is now producing the five-piece face shield kit through 3-D printing and injection molding, with laser cut plastic shields from Akron Makerspace and die cut plastic shields from Preform Sealants. The new manufacturing process enables the team to increase fabrication from 50 to more than 2,000 face shields per day.

“Like so many in our community, several of my family members work in health care. We are really honored to bring our experience and resources, such as our 40 3-D printers, to quickly address the PPE shortage,” said Held.

“The team is motivated to help our community through their engineering, problem solving and logistics skills, and professional networks,” said Garafolo. “Thanks to the support from LTA, we are able to help local hospitals and care facilities, and we are in a position to assist health care providers and volunteers nationwide.”

Today’s delivery builds on efforts over the previous three weeks, in which LTA used 3-D-printing to produce and deliver hundreds of face shields to the Summit County Public Health Department (SCPH) and local hospitals. In coordination with the Summit County Emergency Management Agency, face shields have been provided to nursing homes, care facilities, and other health providers and first responders.

"We are extremely grateful for the donation of face shields," said Cliff Deveny, M.D., Summa Health president and CEO. "These shields already are in use and go a long way in helping keep our caregivers safe. This act of kindness also underscores the overwhelming generosity that we have seen from businesses and individuals across the entire community. From countless donations of PPE, to restaurants providing food to our employees, to the thousands of people sewing masks, we say thank you."

LTA joins a number of other local entities that have risen to meet the need created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Bounce Innovation Hub.

“I’m deeply proud of the forward-thinking efforts that LTA and other local companies are deploying to keep Akronites safe,” said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. “The current crisis demonstrates the central role that innovation and agility play in problem solving. Now more than ever, Akron must continue to foster an environment where new technology and innovators can thrive.”

Together, UA and LTA have been advancing aerospace technology in Akron for more than two years, and the work in Akron is the research and development incubator for LTA’s California-based efforts. Between operations in Akron and Mountain View, California, LTA will manufacture and deliver more than 200,000 face shields to hospitals, medical professionals, and other volunteers across the country by mid-May.

To request face shields for COVID-19 frontline workers, email ltahelps@ltaresearch.com.

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