When the COVID-19 crisis began to emerge, Josh Biro, like so many people throughout the country, wanted to make a personal contribution to help. And as the pandemic evolved, he has been using his skills as a mechanical engineer to help healthcare workers on the frontlines of battling the virus.The results: After designing a low-cost, reusable plastic face shield, Biro and other volunteers have been at work producing more than 1,000 of these vital pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers at SSM Healthcare and St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis as they work tirelessly to contain this pandemic.
In his work as a mechanical engineer, Biro is responsible for designing robotic applications for the Motion Control business unit of Nidec Motor Corporation (NMC), a manufacturer of commercial industrial and appliance motors and controls. His partner is a critical care nurse at a local hospital, and after describing what kinds of personal protection equipment they use on the floor, he decided to use his skills to help.
His plan began to come together when he heard a news report detailing a face mask design that could be produced through the use of 3D printers. Inspired by the report, Biro tracked down the design online and modified it to make the shield more robust. His mask has evolved into a plastic-molded bracket that holds a clear polycarbonate shield that can be cleaned easily. It provides the wearer with a high level of protection, is reusable and includes memory foam in the straps for enhanced comfort for long hours in the field. Feedback from the field, as well as NMC’s internal capability to rapidly prototype new products, allowed the initial design concepts to go into production in less than a week.
As he considered the next steps, Biro approached NMC with his plan for how the company and his teammates might be able to utilize their resources and expertise to also participate. NMC had already provided hundreds of N95 masks to BJC and SSM Healthcare facilities in St. Louis and readily agreed to support his plan to include others as he sought materials and a workforce to increase his output.
Biro also found a helpful partner in Protolabs, a rapid prototyping and on-demand production company headquartered in Maple Plain, Minnesota, which provided him with injection molded parts through their industry-leading digital manufacturing services for the shield brackets. They waived their normal costs for expedited production and delivered the parts to his home in an astounding four days. Tuell Tool Company, which is located in St. Louis, generously donated their services to cut the parts for the PPE assembly.
Biro's apartment, where he was already working remotely as a social distancing precaution put in place by NMC to ensure employee safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, soon resembled a well-stocked warehouse. Any visitor would have been surprised to see boxes of parts and supplies stacked everywhere in addition to a makeshift assembly line in full production mode.
To aid production efforts, he distributed parts to Motion Control coworkers and others so that production and distribution could become even more expedient. They now have the materials to produce 1,000 shields, and that may be just the beginning. Depending on how the community's needs evolve, they are ready to ramp up production even further if healthcare providers' needs continue to grow.
When asked about his inspiration to take on such a large undertaking, Biro explained, "With such a great need in our community, I discovered an opportunity where my skill set and resources fit in perfectly. I feel like we are all contributing however we can, and I found a great opportunity to do my part. This was personal to me, as it involved my family. I am super thankful to be part of an organization like Nidec Motor Corporation that was so willing to allow our team to take time out of our schedules, come together, and put our resources to use helping the community.”