We’re all spending more time at home as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Patrick and Laura Fitzgerald of Indianapolis, Indiana, are using their time to fabricate face shields and face masks for local hospitals.
“If I had a choice between binge-watching ‘The Tiger King’ or saving a person’s life, then the decision is pretty obvious,” said Patrick, a software engineer at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, one of four businesses that form Raytheon Technologies. “It gives me something useful to do with my free time.”
Several years ago, Patrick bought a consumer-grade 3D printer to manufacture parts for minor home repairs and make toys for his children. Fast forward to March 2020 and the pandemic, with the media reporting shortages of personal protective equipment. Around the same time, Patrick stumbled across a blog with a design from the Czech Republic for a face shield.
“I thought, ‘Hmmm, my wife and I might be able to help,’” Patrick said. “The coronavirus really hadn’t hit Indianapolis hard yet, but I wondered if there was a need.”
Through their connections in the community and after talking to friends in the healthcare industry, they quickly learned that there was an urgent need.
“Nurses in an ICU at one of the city’s largest hospitals were wiping down and reusing the same face shields for a week,” Patrick said. “These shields are single-use items and not meant to be durable. So we got started immediately.”
The Fitzgeralds began their project around March 26. Laura, a self-employed seamstress with a degree in apparel design, quickly went through her “fabric stash,” churning out cloth face masks. To date, she’s delivered more than 300 facemasks to four local hospitals.
“She has devoted all of her seamstress work to the masks, making about 20 a day,” Patrick said. “She also spent a few days exclusively making scrub caps for a local maternity ward.”
Patrick uses his 3D printer to fabricate the face shield straps. He can make three straps at a time in about eight hours, averaging about seven to nine a day. He then uses plastic report covers that he can order from any office supply store, punching four holes at the top to mount it on the strap.
To date, Patrick has delivered more than 100 face shields.
“The feedback that I’ve gotten is that they’re much more durable than what they’ve been getting,” Patrick said. “They’re designed to be reused because they’re resistant to antiseptic chemicals and can withstand the heat of sterilization. The plastic is durable for long-term use, and if the shield gets damaged, they can be replaced with spares that I’ve supplied them.”
Patrick turned a spare bedroom into a home office, where he conducts his Raytheon Intelligence & Space work. It’s also where he keeps his 3D printer, so he can keep an eye on it. Once a 3D printing job is started, it’s typically an unattended process, but hiccups do happen.
“Anybody who has a 3D printer can tell you that sometimes things goes wrong, and you end up with a pile of molten spaghetti plastic,” Patrick said. “So I make sure things run smoothly the whole time.”
Besides Patrick’s fulltime job, the Fitzgeralds also have their hands full keeping their two children busy, maintaining their household and ensuring their PPE manufacturing production line is up and running.
“If we can help our healthcare workers in any way, then there’s no better use of our time than any other thing that we can think of,” Patrick said.
Raytheon Intelligence & Space is part of Raytheon Technologies, which has donated 1.2 million items of personal protective equipment to support frontline healthcare workers globally in response to the COVID-19 crisis.