FAIRFIELD — Weaton Capital in Fairfield has been producing face shields and plans to distribute them to health care workers in the fight against COVID-19.
Nate Weaton, president and CEO of the company, said his firm has made 2,400 prototypes of plastic face shields, and is awaiting their approval from the state of Iowa and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He said that, once approved, he expects to make upward of 250,000 face shields in just a few weeks for doctors and nurses on the front line.
The face shield is a 9-inch long piece of transparent plastic that wraps around the wearers face, stretching from their forehead down past their chin. It’s often an added layer of protection worn in conjunction with safety glasses or a mask underneath.
Weaton said face shields are quite different from anything his company typically produces. However, one of the company’s brands, Honeycorr, manufactures foam, plastic and corrugated packaging products. Weaton felt that some of its machines could be altered to produce the face shields that are now in such high demand.
The material commonly used to produce face shields is a polyester base. Honeycorr doesn’t normally use polyester, but it does use similar, polymer materials such as low-density polyethylene. Weaton got the engineering specifications on face shields from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and from Johns Hopkins University. He talked to those in the face shield industry to learn how he would have to adapt his company’s machines to make the equipment. In the end, he said it only required moderate modifications to the firm’s assembly line to make the face shields.
“It’s a thinner material than we’d normally cut, so we’re running the machines faster,” he said. “For instance, where we might cut four pieces on our normal line, we’re now cutting 48 pieces. We’re operating at a much higher volume.”
Weaton said the company is in need of workers and volunteers who can help assemble the face shields.
The company made 2,400 prototypes Monday and Tuesday of this week, and is now attaching an elastic strap to them.
“It’s been about a two week process from design to manufacture,” Weaton said.
Two of the company’s machines are being repurposed to fabricate face shields, which are then sent from the company’s headquarters on South 23rd Street to another building in town for assembly.
“We’re trying to be conscious about social distancing,” Weaton said. “We take the safety of our people very seriously. Fifteen to 20 people will be assembling these things each day, and those will be either new employees or employee volunteers. This has been a great project. It feels good to give back.”
Weaton said the main hurdle facing the company is the lack of plastic.
“It’s sold out everywhere,” he said. “The supply chain is overwhelmed right now.”
Weaton said he is making the face shields at his own cost.
“We’re not doing this for a normal commercial practice,” he said. “We’ve had good conversations with the state and with hospitals. If this becomes an ongoing need, we’ll revisit that in the future as a commercial product, but our mission is not to profit off this. We’re just trying to get this equipment into the field.”