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Sunnyvale Non-Profit Maker Nexus Mobilizes Virtual Community in Coronavirus Fight

Image by Maker Nexus

Over the last month a national cottage industry making medical protective gear for the coronavirus fights has sprouted up like spring dandelions. With its crowd-sourced face shield manufacturing project, Sunnyvale-based Maker Nexus is joining the grass roots effort.

Maker Nexus VP Jim Schrempp was an inventor when he co-founded Audible Magic more than 20 years ago. Now retired, Schrempp helps others become inventors by providing tools, materials and instruction to anyone interested. Now he’s running a crowd-sourced operation making medical face shields.

The project began when Valley Medical Center tweeted asking if someone knew how to make protective face shields, said Schrempp.

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“One of our members saw this and said, ‘we can do this,’” he said. “Our equipment is idle, we have the exact kinds of equipment to make the components: 3-D printers, laser cutters and a community of people who want to help.”

The team mobilized on March 22 with an original design (“model”) published by Czech 3-D printer manufacturer Prusa, Schrempp said, and created several prototypes in hours.

Maker Nexus then asked hospitals to review the design and modified it based on their input. By day’s end a new model was ready for manufacturing and published online. “Medical staff at VMC said, ‘if you can make it, we’ll buy 1,000,’” Schrempp reported. First shipments went out March 26.

With a virtual production team of 400 people using 3-D printers and Maker Nexus’ resources — augmented by a middle school’s 3-D printer donation — Maker Nexus has now shipped 3,000 shields. Components are shipped to the hospitals, where they’re sanitized and assembled. Production cost is about $5 each.

Face shields have been shipped to Valley Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, UC San Diego, Weil Cornell Medical Center in New York City, Kindred Healthcare transitional care hospitals and local dentists. Schrempp’s goal is to ship 2,000 a day.

“People are phenomenal,” said Schrempp. “They’re coming by and dropping them off, donating their own material. We’re getting them from other states,” said Schrempp.

The project’s success is built on easily shareable open-source designs and two pieces of equipment — 3-D printers and laser cutters — that change the plastics’ manufacturing requirements from specialized molds and machines to one that’s like, well, printing.

Just as a document printer can print a poem or a help-wanted ad, 3-D printers take 3-D models “sliced” into layers, “printing” those layers slice by slice from heated thin plastic filament. While this accelerates production start-up, Schrempp now wants to add injection molders to ramp up volume.

The 3-D printer makes the shield’s headband, while a programmable laser cutter makes the faceplate from plastic sheeting, using the heat of a laser beam to cut and form the piece with no finishing needed.

Raw material shortages are the only thing that could slow Maker Nexus down. Schrempp is concerned that shipments of plastic sheeting have been pushed out. “I’m hoping to find an idled manufacturer that uses these sheets” for additional supply, he said.

Santa Clara Rotary became a sponsor when a member who belongs to Maker Nexus suggested the project to the club; which decided, with the Santa Clara Rotary Foundation, together to make a $10,000 total donation to program.

“We visited Jim and asked what we could do to help,” said incoming Rotary President and retired Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers. Last Friday the club presented Maker Nexus with a $10,000 check. It was Schrempp’s birthday and he says it’s one he’ll never forget.

Watch a video tour of Maker Nexus shop at TinyURL.com/maker-nexus-tour. Maker Nexus has set up a Wiki with information about COVID-19 projects at tinyurl.com/maker-nexus-wiki.

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