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The City Journals

Two friends from Millcreek produce face shields for hospitals and others in need

Aug 10, 2020 12:06PM ● By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones

Abbie Arbanas, Nick’s sister, works on face shields. (Photo courtesy Nick Arbanas)

By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones | [email protected]

When Nick Arbanas and JP Thomas became friends in the fifth grade, they had no clue that one day they would be producing face shields during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, when the warning bell rang, Arbanas and Thomas figured they could pitch in and do their part. Both engineers and graduates from the University of Utah, they had the skills and the 3D printer and industrial cutter to “provide a solution to everyone who needed it,” Arbanas said. Three years ago, Arbanas and Thomas started DroidForge (https://droidforge.com), an online business that specializes in custom 3D printing, laser cut and CNC parts. 

Arbanas’ mother, who has worked as a nurse for 30 years at the University of Utah Hospital, took in the mocked-up prototype they made (instructions were obtained from print files offered at blog.prusaprinters.org/) and showed her friends.

They loved it.

When the University ended up making their own shields (for legal reasons) there were many other hospitals and individuals in need of the shields, and the two friends were eager to get the orders out.

“It was about a 50/50 split between individuals and hospitals,” Arbanas said, speaking of just three months ago when the orders were coming in heavy. “People would fill out the order form on our website and come and pick them up or have them shipped to their address.”

“People from the Moran Eye Center came over to my house and picked up their order three times,” Arbanas said. The Center’s outreach included Tahiti, Nepal and the Navajo Nation. 

Shipments of the face masks traveled in multiple Utah locations as well, to a hospital in Idaho, and to hospitals as far away as Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska and Tennessee.  

“We used up 60 rolls of CD filament which translates to printing roughly 15 miles of filament for this project and a total print time of over 2,000 hours,” Arbanas said.

Through GoFundMe, Arbanas and Thomas raised enough money to produce and donate 1,700 face shields. 

Still, there were struggles to be had.  

Sourcing the materials, for one. Their first run of 550, obtained from Austin, Texas, was a one-time deal. When the friends contacted the company a second time, they were informed they’d “run out.”

“I contacted every plastic distributor I could find,” Arbanas said after the sobering news. “We finally found someone in China to help us out, but we paid an arm and a leg for shipping.”

As for labor, Arbanas and Thomas did most of it. Occasionally their siblings volunteered, but most of the work was done by them. 

When a PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) group contacted them from Salt Lake, the two were thrilled.

“While we could cut a few shields at a time, they could cut 15 at a time, and that was really nice. We just picked up the cut face shields and brought them home.”

It took on average 11 assembly hours to make eight face shields, and “though the 3D printers didn’t have to sleep, we did,” Arbanas said. Both friends work full-time jobs and the shield work took most of their evenings. 

“Many people have thanked us for the high quality. We’ve received a lot of really good feedback,” Thomas said.

Currently, the two friends have only materials left to build about 200 shields. 

They said it is hard to predict what the PPE situation will look like in the future and that requests from hospitals and others have declined since they first started shipping these at the beginning of April.

Though the two friends are not currently working on face shields “sourcing materials is a real challenge right now, and the lead times are around three to four weeks,” said Arbanas. Both said they will be “keeping a close eye on the PPE situation as winter approaches.”

“There may be a second spike in COVID cases,” Arbanas said. “If a need arises, we will be ready to make more shields for the people that need them most.”