The highly publicized lack of personal protective equipment for medical professionals during the COVID-19 crisis turned PPE into a ubiquitous acronym.

It also made local makers stop and realize they were in a position to help.

Now, a new movement called New Mexico Makers United has sprung up to hand assemble 3D-printed and laser cut face shields and get them to the hospitals and clinics across the state that need them.

Andrew Woodard, owner of Process Art Studio in Madrid where he does 3-D printing and 3-D scanning, said the idea came to him after he, like thousands of other New Mexicans, lost his full-time job last week and also had to close his studio due to the statewide restrictions.

Process Studio owner Andrew Woodard is helping spearhead local makers to 3-D print face shields for healthcare workers.
Process Studio owner Andrew Woodard is helping spearhead local makers to 3-D print face shields for healthcare workers. | Courtesy Andrew Woodard

"I was looking to do something to make a positive impact," he said. He came across a studio in New York, Budmen, that was using 3-D technology to make face shields for health care workers.

He wasn't the only New Mexican who had seen Budmen's work and gotten in touch. Kristin Browning-Mezel, owner of the Rio Rancho-based company Mezel Mods, which manufactures pinball accessories using 3-D technology had done the same.

Woodard reached out and they put him in touch with another New Mexican who had recently contacted them. Budmen, she says, had "put out a call to action that they were trying to facilitate people helping manufacture rapidly these medical face shields." Given the quickly changing situation, her company "decided we would take a look and see if there was a way we could contribute to the cause." After all, she says, "we have 3-D printers."

From there, Budmen connected the two New Mexicans, who quickly launched their local effort, which reflects a national movement of makers heeding the call from hospitals and health care workers.

They have set up a website, procured materials and donations and, most importantly, gotten the word to health care providers. In less than a week.

"We didn't know each other four days ago," Woodard said, in a joint phone interview.

It didn't take long to see that the need in New Mexico was just as pressing as elsewhere.

"As of today, we have quite a demand," Browning-Mezel says.

The face shield is fabricated using 3D prints, laser-cut plastic and elastic.
The face shield is fabricated using 3D prints, laser-cut plastic and elastic. | Courtesy Kristin Browning-Mezel

In point of fact, Woodard had only made two phone calls and quickly had 1,400 orders, he says, from La Familia in Santa Fe and clinics in Farmington.

"What we sense is happening is that some of these not first responders, people that are not in the state hospitals or private hospitals, they're getting kind of squeezed out," Browning-Mezel says. "I think what Andrew is doing is identifying some really vulnerable people and we're going to start with those needs."

The team also is working with Rio Rancho Mayor Greg Hull "to try to get connected into the Albuquerque needs, so we can try to address some of the bigger needs…in the more populous areas of the state."

The intent is to fundraise to cover the cost of materials. To that end, New Mexico Makers United website (https://nmmakersunited.com/) asks people to donate $10 per face shield. The shields are based on open-source designs and volunteers are assembling them in a hygienic environment. Numerous local organizations, such as Make Santa Fe and Artisans, as well as national businesses, have contributed either materials or expertise.

Woodard says between the two of them they can print close to 200 per day, and are reaching out to others with equipment in the hope to ramp up to closer to 400 a day.

Woodard also says anyone interested in getting involved or donating can contact him at Processartstudio@gmail.com.