The COVID-19 pandemic in our nation began in late January with one single case in Washington State. Just a few short weeks after that, some U.S. states started to experience massive outbreaks, including New Jersey, New York, California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Illinois.
The highly infectious nature of the disease and its ability to be spread by people showing few symptoms opened the flood gates for the d proliferation of the disease amongst population centers. The exponentially-increasing number of cases resulted in many state and local governments scrambling to meet the demand for a wide range of medical supplies and devices.
Whether it was respirators, facemasks, gloves or disinfectants – there never seemed to be enough to go around. And that’s a problem that – months later – seems to have not yet been solved.
In this challenging and downright frightening environment, a number of manufacturing companies stepped in to help fill the gap of personal protective equipment (PPE). One of those manufacturers was Eaton, a power management company with operations in Ohio.
We recently had the opportunity to connect with Srinivas Garimella, the global head of the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence at Eaton, to talk about how advanced manufacturing helped enable the rapid design and production of personal protective equipment as well as the role that digital design solutions played in getting PPE produced and out the door.
Here is what he had to say:
GovDesignHub (GDH): What made Eaton decide to jump into the COVID-19 response? Why was the company uniquely qualified to help out?
Srinivas Garimella: Eaton is a power management company. That means we help customers around the world effectively use power. Our electrical solutions form the backbone of a safe, reliable electricity supply and our mission-critical support is foundational across essential industries.
We made the important decision to maintain operations during the COVID-19 crisis because our products are critical to our global infrastructure.
In addition to providing power management solutions, we also looked for other ways to help our communities during this crisis. We know the ability to respond rapidly and deliver the highest level of care possible is essential in the global fight against the pandemic. We also know that U.S. medical workers on the frontline need immediate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) amidst current shortages. In response to these challenges, we activated our additive manufacturing expertise to rapidly address critical protective equipment shortfalls.
For years, we’ve been applying additive manufacturing across our business to quickly refine product designs based on customer feedback and easily scale production—delivering on cost, performance and lead time benefits for our customers. We launched our Southfield, Michigan Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in 2016, attained AS9100 quality certification in 2018, and have been supplying parts to our customers. Now, we’re using that expertise to produce much-needed supplies, including face shields and non-contact door openers in the battle against COVID-19.
GDH: What kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE) is the company generating? How much and for whom? Where is equipment being distributed?
Srinivas Garimella: We’ve applied our additive manufacturing expertise to help quickly fill shortfalls of critical supplies during the crisis. We developed face shields that are comfortable and can be sanitized and used again and again.
We also developed a four-inch touchless tool so that people can avoid contact with surfaces and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The device helps opens doors, twist faucets and push buttons without touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
We’re supplying hundreds of thousands of face shields and non-contact door openers in the fight against COVID-19. The first batch of face shields made at our Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence were donated to hospitals in Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Michigan. With regional manufacturing partners, we’re delivering 360,000 face shields to Ohio medical workers. The first run of our touchless tools was delivered to University Hospitals in Northeast Ohio, where doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians are currently using the device.
We also sent care packages with both face shields and touchless tools to facility managers at 25 hospitals across the U.S.
GDH: What had to be done to start manufacturing PPE for medical professionals? What steps did the company have to take to start the uction of this equipment?
Srinivas Garimella: To help fulfill critical needs for frontline workers during this crisis, we activated additive manufacturing and a healthy dose of innovation to compress product development timelines and rapidly deliver solutions. The speed and adaptability of additive manufacturing was essential to the fast-paced design that incorporates hospital feedback and the ability to scale production to meet the demands of communities.
For example, our teams collaborated with multiple hospitals and Cleveland’s Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET) to optimize the face shield design for safety, comfort and production. Inside of ten business days, we were able to develop a face shield that’s designed with safety at the forefront, is comfortable for extended wear, and can be sanitized and reused—providing an advantage over current models.
Our advanced manufacturing capabilities were also essential to maximizing the ssibility of our new touchless tool. Again, we were able to move from concept to production in a few short days for the touchless tool. Now, it’s being used to help address concerns associated with contracting the new coronavirus from contaminated surfaces.
GDH: What role did digital design solutions and design software play in making this possible? How are they enabling the creation and production of PPE?
Srinivas Garimella: Additive manufacturing enables engineers with quick and cost-effective design iterations to dramatically reduce development time. And now more than ever, time is of the essence. By leveraging our expertise in additive manufacturing, we expedited the design of these essential PPE solutions.
Since its launch in 2016, our Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence has helped us meet increasing demand for complex high-performance components, tools and fixtures, while advancing sustainable manufacturing and compressing product development time.
Last year, for instance, we developed an aluminum housing and valve for an Aerospace customer. Additive manufacturing helped us consolidate 22 parts into two printed parts, reduce assembly time and improve performance. It also helped our teams reduce part weight and shorten the overall product development time by 50 percent.
We’re applying our advanced manufacturing capabilities as well as our strong network of partners to support the needs of our customers and communities both in times of crisis and during normal operation.
GDH: Without advanced digital design tools and advanced manufacturing techniques, would Eaton have been able to move this quickly to ramp up PPE production? How long would it have taken without these technologies and tools?
Srinivas Garimella: Additive manufacturing opens up new opportunities to combine novel materials, designs and process innovations at a much faster pace than traditional manufacturing. Our expertise in 3D printing and manufacturing was essential to the rapid design and production of PPE during the COVID-19 crisis. It enabled us to compress project timelines from months to days, incorporate design feedback from healthcare workers and scale manufacturing.
GDH: People may see a company like Eaton doing this and think that it’s a commonsense way a massive manufacturer can give back with little cost of sacrifice. But hitting the breaks on “business as usual” and immediately ramping up production of something new is never cheap or easy – or without sacrifice. What is the company sacrificing to help people?
Srinivas Garimella: Pivoting to producing the PPE was relatively seamless from a technical standpoint – additive technologies are meant for this. However, delivering the PPE in a very short time frame, while working under difficult circumstances caused by COVID-19 required considerable commitment, collaboration, and personal sacrifice from our additive team. We’re very proud of our team for this.
We’re committed to helping the communities where we live and work by taking steps to aid in the fight against COVID-19 and leveraging our expertise and capabilities to do so. Whether it’s donating much-needed supplies to healthcare providers or providing our power management expertise across critical industries. We remain dedicated to ensuring always-on power for essential electrical systems and data services and supporting healthcare capacity needs with on-time project construction.
We’re working with our partner manufacturers, contractors, consultants and distributors to respond to the challenge before us and deliver what’s needed: expertise, response time, power management and PPE solutions.
For additional information and to request PPE, click HERE to contact Eaton.