A Wilkinsburg makerspace is hoping to engage people in the responsible production of face shields to help those on the front lines of fighting coronavirus.

Protohaven, a nonprofit makerspace with lasers, tools, sewing machines and more, has published an open-source design for a protective face shield made of durable plastic (PETG) that can be made for less than $1 in materials.

The design, free for anyone to download from their website, is compatible with 3D-printed face shields that hospitals around the world are using. Made with a laser cutter, it can be produced in less than a minute, versus the 3D print time of one to two hours, says Devin Montgomery, Protohaven’s founder and executive director.

“We had closed following the county executive’s request, but we started looking into requests for personal protective equipment and requests for donations,” says Montgomery. “What we noticed is that most of the designs that had been made so far had been 3D printed, which is a great technology, but it’s slow. … It just seemed more appropriate to make a lot of these things quickly.”

Montgomery and his lifelong friend Mat Thorne, a Protohaven member, co-designed the shield after talking with people from Pittsburgh’s hospitals and universities. They sent a few to smaller facilities and the response was positive. Now, to comply with social distancing rules, Montgomery opens the shop to one volunteer at a time to produce shields.

It’s so easy and quick that one person can make up to 300 a day.

The Proto-shield. Photo courtesy of Protohaven.

“Working with other makerspaces, we’ll be able to make thousands a day,” he says.

Protohaven is partnering with the medical relief organization Global Links on safe handling procedures, and hopes to distribute shields through soft goods manufacturer Day Owl (formerly Thread). It has received support on the project from Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator and the Hillman Foundation.

Since the designs were published on Saturday, they’ve been accessed more than 26,000 times. And they’ve been shared globally through Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies, as well as universities, health care facilities, other makerspaces and Reddit, according to Adam Kenney, director of Bridgeway Capital’s Craft Business Accelerator.

The process has jazzed Montgomery during a time when many people are beginning to feel isolated.

“We’ll be looking for additional support to keep doing these kinds of things,” he says.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.