For over 40 years, advanced manufacturing company LAI International has made components for the defense and aerospace industry, as well as surgical devices, bringing technology like waterjet cutting, laser technology and other machining tools.
Now, the company is turning those tools and engineering capability toward the mobilization against COVID-19.
The Westminster-based company is producing face shields for local hospitals that are in need of protective equipment for doctors and nurses treating the disease thats causing a global pandemic. After design, retooling and testing, the company had 1,500 face shields out to seven local hospitals and healthcare providers in less than two weeks.
Just showing that were doing the small part that we could possibly do was a feel-good story for the whole entire shop, said LAI International CEO Marlon Johnson.
This week, the company was one of the 20 in Maryland that received state grants to pivot or expand production of personal protective equipment. Administered by the Maryland Department of Commerce, the $1.6 million was given in the first round of grants from the Maryland COVID-19 Emergency Relief Manufacturing Fund.
Gov. Larry Hogan has said ramping up the supply of personal protective equipment is a key building block for being able to reopen. With local companies enlisting to help, the fund is providing additional capital for the new operations.
We quickly created this program to address an immediate critical need, and our business community has responded in a big way, Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said in a statement. Another nine companies received grants from the City of Baltimore two weeks ago, and Station North makerspace Open Works has mobilized makers to 3D print face shields.
For LAI, the process meant iterating. Looking at the existing disposable face shield designs that were available and the additive manufacturing tools at the companys 50-associate shop, Johnson asked his team, How can we take it up a notch?
A key component of LAI Internationals design is that the shields are reusable. The company also wanted them to be comfortable, so that when the physician wears them or the nurse wears them, it feels like glasses, Johnson said. Subscribing to the idea that one shouldnt ship a product before ensuring the maker would use it themselves, the CEO and others wore the face shields as they were working to test them. After all, theyre used to wearing protective glasses in the shop.
There was also collaboration. For clinical testing, they worked with Dr. Alan H. Shikani, who is the chief of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital and LifeBridge Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. And to retool the operation, they worked with Shannon Van Deren, who is president of Layered Manufacturing.
The shields have since been delivered to Medstars Union Memorial, Good Samaritan and Georgetown hospitals; LifeBridge Healths Sinai and Carroll hospitals; and institutions in the Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland networks.
Going forward, LAI is looking to continue production, and ramping up to make 1,000 face shields a week.
Heres a look at the other companies that received grants:
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