In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scramble for urgent medical supplies was desperate. Supply chains were frozen, the future was uncertain and hospitals were running low on personal protective equipment.
It was a perfect time for rapid prototyping, ingenuity and local problem-solvers to shine. And shine they did.
Help Needed During a Pandemic
In March, Renown Medical Center, the leading regional hospital system for Northern Nevada, needed more battery packs for respirators — vital equipment that protected doctors and nurses from COVID infection. But ordering more in a country paralyzed by a pandemic was out of the question.
So medical officials asked the University of Nevada, Reno for help. Soon they were connected with Michael Gillette, the founder of Nevada Jumpstarter, a rapid prototyping outfit that operates out of the University’s Innevation Center.
Gillette immediately agreed to build the respirator battery packs from scratch himself pro-bono. He just needed to figure a few things out.
“They needed it on a really short turn,” said Gillette, “and I couldn’t get any off-the-shelf components.”
Not only were the components a hurdle, but in a world suddenly on lockdown, the assembly of the respirator battery packs wasn’t going to be a normal workshop process.
“I had to do this in my living room at my house. I designed it so I could screw it together and not solder it. It was really simple, but also really, really complicated,” said Gillette.
Gillette’s design was ingenious, but it required some specialized lase-cut metal parts to bring the entire battery pack together — chiefly a breakless bend in the metal that would allow the simple assembly Gillette envisioned.
In the Nick Of Time
Gillette immediately thought of SendCutSend, a company he had worked with over the years for laser cutting services, specifically to laser cut prototyping material on quick turnarounds.
“I reached out to them. I said, ‘I have this project for COVID.’ Without blinking an eye they said ‘we will do it for free,” said Gillette.
All the pieces were in place, but the clock was ticking. In those urgent days as the pandemic devastated Seattle and then New York, Gillette worked feverishly to deliver the respirator battery packs as quickly as possible to the medical workers facing the prospect of a rapidly spreading virus.
He laser cut ABS backplates and 3D printed his own clips. When the SendCutSend stainless steel battery cage pieces arrived, he began assembling the entire battery pack into its final form.
“I ordered hundreds and hundreds of parts from SendCutSend, and they got them to me as fast as possible,” said Gillette.
Gillette assembled 100 battery pack units and delivered them to Renown Medical Center. The entire process, from inception to design to completed product, took about three weeks.
“They put them in use immediately,” said Gillette. And the battery packs worked flawlessly, apart from one minor issue with a single battery pack that Gillette quickly fixed.
“As far as I know they are still in use,” said Gillette.
American Manufacturing to the Rescue
The entire rapid prototyping led to one more job, a respirator hose adapter that Gillette completed for Renown soon after the battery packs were delivered. But more than that, it highlighted the incredible capabilities of smart, adaptable American manufacturing and prototyping companies that can spring into action at a moment’s notice and deliver laser cutting services rapidly.
For Gillette, who constantly prototypes and produces products for a wide range of industries, it also showcased the powerful problem-solving that a company like his can deliver when paired with a rapid-turn laser cutting innovator like SendCutSend.
“I could just send a file and they have it back to me the next day,” said Gillette. “Being able to do something like the respirator battery pack project, where a quick turnaround is imperative, is certainly enabled by what they offer.”
Now, when Gillette is designing new prototypes, the capabilities and speed of SendCutSend are always in the back of his mind. And whatever new products and processes SendCutSend ends up adding to their list of laser cutting services, he said he is soon to be a customer.
“Whatever they end up having as a capability, I imagine I will end up using,” said Gillette.