‘I Have the Equipment, I Have The Knowledge.’ Pittsburgher Makes, Donates Medical Face Shields

Apr 20, 2020

Nick Drombosky didn’t set out to make face shields for health care workers. He just wanted to help his sister-in-law, a physician in the San Francisco Bay Area, find a company there who would be willing to manufacture them, using a design from the OpenFacePPE project.

Drombosky has worked in manufacturing for years – he owns a business creating reflective decals for cyclists – so he started reaching out to his contacts.

“No one wanted to produce this face shield,” he said. “People wanted to come up with their own design.”

OpenFacePPE's face shield design
Credit OpenFacePPE

Shortages of personal protective equipment for frontline medical workers have been well-documented. This includes N-95 respirators, face shields, goggles, gloves, surgical gowns and other materials.

OpenFace PPE is a collaboration of a handful of volunteer designers and the New York University COVID-19 Task Force, focused on face shields. The open source design isn’t quite as protective as what would be used in normal times, because it’s open on both the top and the bottom. Usually, medical face shields have a piece of foam that sits on the forehead, closing it off at the top. Drombosky said a lot of people in PPE design circles seemed get hung up on that fact.

“But when you talk to clinicians, they're just like, that's not our concern. We just need something to protect our face. We're already wearing goggles underneath, wearing a respirator underneath. This is more like a second layer of protection,” Drombosky said.

He said the OpenFace design is useful because it can be manufactured quickly, at scale, with a variety of equipment, using materials that are typically available. According to the project’s website, the masks can be made “using almost any flat material fabrication equipment (laser cutters, rule dies, drag knife, CNC punch, etc.), or even scissors and an office hole punch.”

When it became clear that Drombosky wouldn’t be able to find someone local to his sister-in-law to manufacture the design, he decided to do it himself, using a vinyl cutter in his basement in Pittsburgh. Over the last few weeks, he’s created hundreds of face shields and shipped them directly to medical workers all over the U.S. and Canada, for free.

He estimates that he’s sunk about $5,000 into the effort so far, and though he’s taking donations through his website, he said most of that has come from his own pocket. He said the reason he wanted to help comes from his own life experiences.

“I was an orphan in [South] Korea, and I was adopted and I got to grow up in in the United States … I think a lot of people, when you don't have that perspective, it's easy to not understand why people go out of their way to do things,” Drombosky said. “But for me, this is something that is relatively easy for me to do. I have equipment. I have the knowledge. People are in need … Health care workers have some of the most dangerous jobs in the world right now.”