IBM and Coronavirus stories

IBM joins SUNY initiative to create face shields using 3D printers

Rachel Eisgruber, a mechanical engineering student at SUNY New Paltz, printing face shield parts. (image: SUNY New Paltz)


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, volunteers are innovating to help provide essential medical supplies to healthcare professionals and others battling the respiratory illness.

Protective equipment has been in short supply. That includes the face shields medical professionals use to treat patients in clinics, test centers, emergency rooms and hospitals. With stockpiles insufficient for the fast-growing number of cases, volunteers are springing into action.

In New York state, one of the hardest hit areas, the Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center at SUNY New Paltz is spearheading an initiative to make face shields for healthcare providers. Students and instructors at SUNY New Paltz used a 3D printer to create a prototype. Then, over Facebook, they invited local manufacturers to help produce them.

IBM developers saw the SUNY post and launched an internal effort to produce components for the face shields. The team is using 3D printers, laser cutters and a water jet capability at IBM facilities in Poughkeepsie and Fishkill, N.Y., as well as Burlington, Vt., Austin, Texas, and Rochester, Minn., where IBM hardware is developed and manufactured.

The newly devised face-shield manufacturing system went into operation within a few days, cutting transparent visors from durable polyester while producing headbands using 3D printers. They are refining the system as they go, using open-source designs to scale up manufacturing to more than 200 shields per week.

“IBM is using its resources in the Hudson Valley and beyond to support our community, healthcare providers, and local Ulster County government,” said John Acocella, Vice President, Enterprise Systems and Technology Development, IBM Systems. “We have tremendous expertise in manufacturing and computer hardware and software development and are working at full speed to help, because every moment counts.”

IBM sent the first batch of components it produced to SUNY on Friday, and the university delivered the protective equipment to a local hospital. Hundreds more face shields are expected to be created in the coming weeks through the overall effort.

“I’m so proud of how our entire community has stepped up,” said Pat Ryan, an executive for Ulster County, where SUNY New Paltz is located. “This project exemplifies the resilience that will get us through this crisis.”

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