How an innovative idea became an impactful PPE donation
Jun 25, 2020

Sometimes, getting out of your typical routine and environment can help to inspire new ideas. When 3M product developer James Sieracki and product engineer Grant Flick began to work from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a casual brainstorm session yielded a simple face shield design. By making the product design elegant, yet effective, the duo thought their shield could be swiftly produced and donated to healthcare workers in immediate need. As an added benefit, they knew it could be made with excess material that was already at a 3M plant.

“We knew that this was something we should do, because this was something that we could do,” said Sieracki. “We were in the fortunate position that we had the know-how, the material, and the manufacturing capability to quickly bring this idea to scale.”

Flick and Sieracki shared the design with their supervisor and a clinical application engineer (who is also a former nurse) for initial review and received their enthusiastic support. From there, the shield idea quickly gained momentum throughout the Medical Solutions Division. In view of 3M’s restrictions regarding the number of people able to work on campus during the pandemic, a small team had to be granted special permission to explore the project further in the lab, with safety considerations, such as appropriate social distancing and sanitizing measures, as a first priority.

In less than two weeks, the small team had solidified the design, piloted and modified the construction process, and began producing the face shields in bulk—reaching output levels of 10,000 shields a day within just three days. Based on the stock of existing material, and the zero-waste construction of the shields, the team calculated they would be able to produce approximately 550,000 total shields.

Only one question remained: how would the product be distributed to health care workers across the U.S.?

Because the shields were designed to be donated, the team reached out to 3M’s corporate giving group, 3Mgives, and connected with an existing 3M partner, Direct Relief. This nonprofit organization gathers and distributes medical supplies for under-resourced communities and clinics during the pandemic.

“These face shields will go a long way and have real impact on health centers and clinics in need,” said Alycia Clark, a pharmacist at Direct Relief. “Face shields help protect the wearer from fluids and can also help to extend the lifespans of N95 respirators, which are still in tight supply. With a donation this large, we could send a shipment to all of our partners."

With its simple, flat-pack friendly design—and a donation of Scotch™ Flex & Seal packaging material from the Stationary and Office Supplies Division—the team began shipping envelopes of 50 face shields, along with 110 head straps and two instructional sheets, to Direct Relief.

To date, a core team of roughly 10 employees has pitched in to produce and ship 450,000 face shields. With the learnings and efficiencies gained after the initial few weeks, a three-person crew is now managing the operations and producing up to 15,000 face shields per day. By quickly embracing a flash of inspiration, finding innovative solutions to make it a reality and collaborating with trusted partners to improve lives in communities across the country, this project team went above-and-beyond to help protect healthcare workers battling on the front lines of COVID-19. 

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