A shield against the enemy: Lebanon firm making facial protection for DHMC, others

  • Sean Murphy, middle, and Ellen Raymond, left, assemble face shields for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients as Erik Bergeron packs the finished products at Fujifilm Dimatix in Lebanon, N.H., Friday, April 3, 2020. The company’s employees are volunteering in two, four-hour shifts to produce 1,000 shields daily with the goal of producing 20,000 in all. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

  • Erik Bergeron removes a bent staple from the elastic head band of a face shield before replacing it at Fujifilm Dimatix in Lebanon, N.H., Friday, April 3, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Fred Amidon, an engineering manager at Fujifilm Dimatix, assembles a shield of clear plastic, a foam pad, and elastic at the the company’s location in Lebanon, N.H., Friday, April 3, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 4/3/2020 9:08:51 PM
Modified: 4/4/2020 11:54:03 AM

LEBANON — Rick Correia was at home in Northfield, N.H., two Saturdays ago when a story on the nightly news caught his attention. A TV reporter was telling viewers about how a Nashua nonprofit had designed the kind of plastic face shields required for health care workers interacting with patients with symptoms of the COVID-19 illness.

Correia, who is responsible for overseeing the supply of materials at Fujifilm Dimatix, immediately emailed his colleagues at the Lebanon manufacturing company to tell them what he had just seen. Fujifilm staff had already been discussing how they could harness their manufacturing capability to make critical supplies for the medical community confronting a pandemic.

“We started exchanging emails and just grabbed it and started to run with how we could make it work,” said Correia, a low-key engineer with a pronounced New Hampshire accent and who bears a resemblance to actor Ryan Gosling. “This is what we do.”

The “do” in this case is Fujifilm using its know-how to make 20,000 face shields, which are part of the personal protective equipment urgently needed by hospitals.

The face shields, the first batches of which were assembled on Thursday, are being provided to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and hospitals in Santa Clarita, Calif., where the company has a sister facility.

On the scale of Fujifilm’s technical capabilities — the company designs and manufacturers industrial print heads used in a wide variety of applications — the plastic face masks represent a low-tech innovation but one that draws upon Fujifilm’s core expertise, according to Correia.

“We felt the most value comes from Fujifilm’s experience with materials and global network capabilities that allows us to focus our efforts on face shields,” Correia said.

As it turned out, Fujifilm did not have to look far to get started.

The company is utilizing an open-source design for the face shield introduced by MakeIt Labs, a nonprofit “makerspace” in Nashua.

The clear plastic shield, which resembles a welder’s mask, prevents droplets from coughs and sneezes from coming into contact with the person wearing it.

Manufacturing and assembly of the face shields is relatively simple. Materials required include a sheer plastic sheathing flexible enough to be bent in a curvature, foam padding attached to the shield that presses against the brow, and a stretchable headband.

For material to fabricate the plastic shield, Correia knew he could turn to Fujifilm’s parent company in Japan, a global behemoth known to the public for its digital cameras but now primarily a supplier of advanced medical systems, semiconductor materials and the biomed market.

He ordered rolls of thin plastic to be shipped to Lebanon, where it would have to be unfurled and cut into face-size shields.

After consulting with some Lebanon manufacturers, Fujifilm settled upon New England Die Cutting just over the New Hampshire border in Methuen, Mass.

With the plastic shield material in hand — it is covered in an anti-fogging substrate that prevents the shield from fogging from exhaling — New England Die Cutting sourced the foam rubber padding and the elastic bands that allow shield to fit snuggly on the head.

Kim Abare, CEO of New England Die Cutting, said that a team of seven of the company’s 53 employees were able to deliver prototypes to Fujifilm within five days that it could present to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for approval.

Abare also put a project engineer over the team and pulled in people from the research and development staff.

“There is no fail in this,” said Abare, repeating the message she imparted to employees about the urgency and necessity of their task.

Abare’s team shipped the parts of the face shields — plastic visor, foam pads and headbands — to Fujifilm’s plant on Etna Road.

Inside Fujifilm, Jay Young, senior director of engineering, organized a three-station assembly cell.

At the stations, a volunteer Fujifilm employee peels the adhesive tape off the back of the foam pad, presses it to the plastic visor, staples the headband to two ends of the visor and places the completed item in a plastic bag.

Each face shield takes less than 60 seconds to assemble.

Correia said that volunteering employees have been organized into two, four-hour shifts with a target of producing 1,000 face shields daily.

Correia couldn’t take all the volunteers who raised their hands because personnel is required to staff those positions involved in manufacturing print heads for customers deemed essential businesses during the pandemic.

(Fujifilm continues to make print heads for businesses deemed essential during the crisis. Correia noted that continuing to operate for those customers put the Lebanon location in a position to make the face shields.)

Dr. George Blike, an anesthesiologist who is chief quality and value officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, said the face shields will be used by those “in the first line of defense” when dealing with patients.

“The eyes, nose and mouth are all membranes through which the virus can be transmitted” and the face shield acts as a barrier against infection.

He declined to say specifically how many face shields D-H is projecting it will require in the fight against the virus but said it would be “in the tens of the thousands if not hundreds of thousands.”

“From a readiness perspective, you have to prepare for the worst,” Blike said. “The global demand for (protective equipment) supplies is so unprecedented that is had made us explore all options, and we welcome all the help we get. We know we are going to need a lot when it’s at its peak.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

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