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4 Penn alumni have created Project Shields to produce 3D printed face shields for healthcare workers. (Photo from Tiffany Yau)

A team of four Penn graduates are putting their separate business endeavors on hold to mass-produce 3D-printed face shields for health care workers at the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

The team, known as Project Shields, assembles 400 face shields a day at the Pennovation Center located in the Lower Schuylkill area. The shields are then delivered to the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Any Philadelphia healthcare worker can put in a request for face shields on the team's website.

Face shields are a form of personal protective equipment with a National Institute of Health-approved 3D-printed visor that is fitted with a clear sheet of plastic to cover the face. 

The face shield protects the wearer from coronavirus airborne droplets, but is most effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus when worn with an N95 mask, Project Shields team member and 2019 Engineering graduate Evan Weinstein said. 

In order to increase the scale of their operation, Project Shields started a GoFundMe on March 29 — which has raised over $36,000 of its $100,000 goal.

Along with Weinstein, the team is comprised of 2019 Wharton graduate Michael Wong, 2018 College and 2019 School of Social Policy and Practice graduate Tiffany Yau, and Director of Innovative Programs at Graduate School of Education's entrepreneur hub Catalyst @ Penn GSE and 1992 College graduate John Gamba.

Gamba said desperate calls for PPE from the University of Pennsylvania Health System and other Philadelphia healthcare workers brought the team of engineers and social entrepreneurs together at the end of March. Gamba added that the four Penn graduates knew each other from their time studying or working at Penn and decided to combine their skills to produce face shields.

Wong is the CEO of tech business InstaHub which produces motion sensor devices to automate light switches. He said he halted production of InstaHub's snap-on sensors at his 3D printing farm in late March to produce face shields for healthcare workers fighting the spread of coronavirus. Weinstein, founder of chocolate 3D printing company Cocoa Press, also halted production of custom artisanal chocolate to support Project Shields.

“When there’s something like this that seems apocalyptic and you can do something about it, why shouldn’t I take the risk to help get hundreds [of face shields] mass-produced in a day to be able to help those who are frontline medical workers?” Wong said. 

With 10 3D printers, Project Shields mass-produces face shields 24 hours, seven days a week, at a rate 10 times faster than any other similar standardized initiative, according to their website. The team hopes to distribute 25,000 face shields in Philadelphia over the next four to six weeks. In the next few months, they hope to produce 100,000 face shields and scale their effort to provide PPE to hospitals across the country. 

Within a few days of launching the GoFundMe, Yau said the team surpassed their initial goal of $25,000 and have since increased it to $100,000. Yau added that much of their support has come from the Penn community, including current students, alumni groups, and corporate matching.

"We're all so personally driven to make some kind of impact with this," Yau said. "Every one of us halted our operations from what we're initially doing to work on this collectively."

Yau, founder and CEO of Fulphil, a startup which teaches high school students social entrepreneurship, added that Fulphil supports Project Shields by making the donations tax deductible.

Weinstein said one of the biggest difficulties Project Shields faces is the lack of available materials to produce the face shields, adding that the team has had to find partners to provide them with different materials in order to produce the face shields.

“It’s a very much ‘do whatever it takes' mentality to start, build, and grow the impact of this until we see the curve flattening, until we don’t hear people calling us every day and every hour with desperate needs for personal protective equipment,” Gamba said.