At the end of March, Centenary Stage Company‘s two 3D printers sat unused in storage. The theater company, located on the Centenary University campus, had recently purchased the printers for prop fabrication but didn’t have an opportunity to use them for such due to the Covid-19 shutdown of nonessential businesses.
But since the beginning of April, the printers have been running almost nonstop. The general manager of the Hackettstown theater, Chris Young, teamed with his brother John Young to launch a face shield–creating initiative. After learning about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health-care workers, John, who works for Denville-based WisEngineering, got to work using two 3D printers of his own. John gave Chris a crash course in using the Centenary-owned printers, and the brothers have been churning out shields in their homes ever since.
The plastic material for the printers is fed into the machine, which builds the 3D object layer by layer. WisEngineering, a high-tech government staffing company, had stockpiles of the material, as did Centenary.
Durable plastic binder presentation covers serve as the shields. The tops of the sheets are hole-punched, and the sharp corners are trimmed. These removable sheets can be disinfected or discarded after use.
The sibling endeavor has grown larger. About six people help to cut the sheets and deliver the products. Another six or so also have 3D printers. And the Mount Arlington–based contracting company UTRS has pitched in.
As of the last week in April, the duo and their team had donated about 1,000 completed shields to two dozen locations.
“It is an entire community effort,” says Chris. An effort that extends beyond New Jersey: Since launching the initiative on April 8, inquiries have come in from as far as Oklahoma and Georgia.
Chris and John are balancing their philanthropic efforts with normal job responsibilities. Centenary Stage Company is currently planning its next season.
Just like community members who are creating fabric masks and distilleries that are transitioning to bottling hand sanitizer, the brothers felt a need to put their skills and resources to good use. “I’m happy to do it,” says John. “I just wish that I didn’t have to.”
John has also partnered with seamstresses in Jefferson Township to design and 3D-print buttons that are sewn onto cloth headbands. They’re needed by healthcare workers to relieve the pressure on the backs of their ears caused by the N95 face mask’s elastic straps.
Chris Schuler’s 3D printer in action, creating the headband portion of protective face shields (left). Courtesy of Chris Schuler
Similarly, Chris Schuler, a full-time audio engineer at the Borgata in Atlantic City, has been 3D-printing plastic ear-saving contraptions. His hook-like accessory, too, eases pressure and secures masks.
Schuler, who is currently on furlough, has also joined the Philadelphia COVID-19 Medical Supplies Exchange, a Facebook group that unites people who have 3D printers and laser cutters with frontline workers and healthcare facilities who need PPE.
Schuler has both hand-delivered and shipped 615 ear-savers to several locations in the tri-state area, including Cooper University Hospital in Camden.
He has also used his printer to make face shields. At first it was difficult to obtain the clear plastic sheets, so he gave some of the headband pieces he made to Alex Bergeron, the technical director for McCarter Theatre. Bergeron had the other needed parts to complete the shields.
Bergeron and his girlfriend, Jacqueline Deniz Young, technical director for Two River Theater in Red Bank, also own a laser cutter and 3D printer. They’ve made and donated 70 shields to the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management, and are currently processing 80 more.
Also joining the effort is Shannon White, the assistant properties master for George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. Working with friend Sam Ghali, they’ve 3D-printed face shields from home. “[They’re] putting this technology to new use beyond the stage!” read a post on the theater’s Facebook page.
“I’m certainly proud of all the contributions that the technical theater community is making during this national crisis,” says Schuler. “These are all highly skilled and creative individuals who normally make ‘theater magic’ to entertain the masses, and [they] have shifted to using their talents to serve the masses instead.”
In the last week or two, the need for community-produced PPE is waning, says Schuler. “[That] seems to stem from a combination of the virus slowing down a little, but also supplies of commercial PPE becoming more available—[both] are great to see.”
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