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MakerspaceCT Founder Devra Sisitsky has always been an innovator, problem-solver, and community advocate. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, she quickly gathered a team to brainstorm solutions for how the Makerspace could help produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for first responders.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Devra about the efforts MakerspaceCT is making to help a community in crisis.

NAN PRICE: What’s going on at the Makerspace?

DEVRA SISITSKY: Last Friday night, seven of us gathered in a Google Hangouts meeting to brainstorm ideas about what we could do to support the community. On the call we had a biomedical and turbine engineers, industrial designers, additive specialists, and IT people.

We kicked around ideas such as building protective screening booths for healthcare personnel who are doing COVID-19 testing. We centered on producing face shields and looked at some of the additive manufacturing and 3D printing designs. During our virtual meeting, one of our team members realized our original design would take too long to make in quantity and redesigned and distributed a prototype on the spot that utilized existing materials.

Soon after, I was in contact with federal agencies, the State of Connecticut Department of Administrative Services/Procurement Division (DAS), Department of Human and Health Services, DHHS the City of Hartford Emergency Management Services, and local hospitals to see where we could provide support.

I’ve also received calls from local companies to discuss collaborations and support services. For example, we have spoken with employees from a local parachute company that is exploring the possibility of production for masks robes and biohazard suits. We’re supporting this effort with potential product design, pattern recreation, material sourcing, and sewing instruction. Another large manufacturer is exploring face masks and would like to partner with us to use our equipment and potentially share material sources.

NAN: How are you sourcing materials to produce PPE?

DEVRA: At this point, it’s also very hard to source some materials because they’re in such high demand. I’ve received phone calls directly from physicians pleading for PPE because, in some of the emergency departments, they have absolutely no shields and masks and they’re running low on gowns. The need is so urgent, they’re looking outside of typical procurement processes and methodologies. I have seen posts from healthcare workers on Neighbor to Neighbor websites looking for PPE.

The City of Hartford Emergency Management Services requested 500 face shields from us. So, we’re hard at work fulfilling that request here in the Maker Community.

Many cities are turning to Makerspaces to come up with solutions for sourcing materials and quickly get them where they need as typical supply chains are delayed. Through our national Makerspace community, we do have some sources for materials like the PETG needed for 3D printing shields for PPE. Also, we started a donation page to help with funding to get those materials and start producing PPE we can donate to emergency room physicians.

NAN: With the MakerspaceCT community, you have the skills to create what’s needed for PPE.

DEVRA: Yes, we have amazing local resources who can figure out how to solve things. But it’s challenging. We have a volunteer team of members to assemble but, realistically, we only want to have three or four people in our space at any time to maintain social distancing.

So, we’re piecemealing some of the process by dropping off product on people’s doorsteps who are volunteering to fabricate a part of the shields. Then we’re assembling the PPE back in our facility. We’re trying to do this in the most intelligent, safest way possible and still be expedient. Our shop staff has been working tirelessly to provide a clean and disinfected environment for people to work.

We have a community of makers working to source materials, design and improve prototypes, assemble products, and quickly get the products to the people who need them to support our communities. That’s what Makerspaces are here to do anyway—support our communities and support making.

Support MakerspaceCT’s efforts to make PPE for Hartford-area first responders and hospital personnel. Donate to the MakerspaceCT COVID response fund.

[Photo: MakerspaceCT Operations Manager Mark Colbert models a “quikshield” face shield he designed.]

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