PISCATAWAY, NJ -- With the call for Americans to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has proven deadly, many hospitals have turned to donations in order to meet the challenge of stocking adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for doctors, nurses and other hospital staff to use while treating the infected.

Both private citizens and businesses have answered the call over the past six weeks of the quarantine, contributing surgical gowns, sterile gloves, and N95 face masks among other items necessary to keep these frontline workers safe as they perform their duties.

LIXIL Americas, a Piscataway based business is one such donor.

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The parent company of kitchen and bath brand, American Standard, LIXIL’s research and development team turned to 3D printing to produce supplies of face shields for the hospitals to use.

“We have a lot of employees who were looking for ways to help out,” said Sal Gattone, LIXIL’S Vice President of Engineering. “In this environment everyone wants to try to do something positive for the world and the country, so they can try to contribute.”

Gattone said that since the company’s Centennial Ave. research and design facility did not close for the quarantine because it’s considered an essential business, they have been able to produce and donate hundreds of face shields to first responders and to various hospitals in New Jersey and New York including RWJBarnabas Health in New Brunswick, CentraState Medical Center in Freehold and New York–Presbyterian Hospital.

“We started brainstorming some ideas on how we can help and landed on face shields,” said Gattone to TAPinto Piscataway about how they came up with the plan to produce face shields. “We looked at respirators and other things we could do, but the face shields were a good fit because we knew we could 3D print the headband material on our 3D printers.”

Gattone, who has worked for LIXIL for over 12 years in various roles said two of the engineering facility’s three 3D printers have been repurposed to print components to make the shields, so far producing 100-120 units per week.

“We were able to repurpose a large cutting table that we use for packaging and cutting out cardboard boxes to be able to cut up thin sheets of plastic to make the face shields which we knew were in great need across the country and the region for frontline health care workers,” he said of the multi-step process.

“After the parts are printed, we have to clean them up and take off any sharp edges. We have to install a rubber band that we’re using for the headband to keep the shield to your head. Then we cut out the face shield part and snap it on,” said Gattone.

“We thought we could make a difference and were able to get a good design to be able to start producing these products,” he added.

While Gattone said the company has a lot of employees who would like to volunteer to help make the shields, only five or six can work on producing the masks at a time.

“We set up a production line in our facility so everyone is spaced really far apart,” he said of the social distancing process in place due to the risks associated with coronavirus. “It’s probably the least efficient thing to see but it’s what we have to do these days.”

But if it wasn’t for an employee’s connection with a plastic company, Gattone said the amount of face shields they could produce may have been far less than what they have been able to do so far.

“We almost had a limitation with the plastic face shield material,” he said. “Apparently there’s a shortage of it nationwide. A lot of people are trying to get this material to help make masks and other protective equipment.”

“One of our employees, Martin Ryan was able to work with a company, Innovative Plastics to secure the plastic,” said Gattone. “They had a role sitting around which they donated to us. It was a 500-pound roll of material good for 3000-4000 shields. If it wasn’t for them, we would have been out of production because we would have had a hard time getting the material.”

Now that the word is getting out of the LIXIL’s face shields, Gattone said they have been getting calls from employees’ family members and contacts who are on the frontlines and in need of such PPE.

“Since people in our company have found out that we’re doing this, they’ve been reaching out to me about family members and friends who are healthcare workers and are short on masks,” said Gattone. “We’ve got a good network of people we’re ready to send them to and who need them.”

He said while he and his team are researching other ways to contribute to the cause, the face shields are a much welcomed addition to the health workers’ PPE supplies.

“The face shields are a good way,” said Gattone adding how the team has received a lot of photos and letters of thanks from health care workers who are now wearing the face shields. “We’ve modified the design a few times, we’ve honed in on a design that is comfortable for the health care worker to wear. We know how to manufacture it.”

“We wish there was more we could do and are still looking for other ways to contribute,” said Gattone. “We’re going to keep making the face shields until people are able to get them through their normal supply chain, and they’re not needed anymore.

“There are a lot of people struggling because they have families to go home to at night, and they’re exposed to the virus, and they don’t want to bring it home and get sick. Anything we can do to help them stay safe is something we want to be a part of.”

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