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Made in Iowa

WC manufacturer part of statewide effort to produce face shields for healthcare workers

-Submitted photo
The halos or headpieces for medical face shields are being created at a Webster City manufacturing plant. Vantec Inc. is producing the halos which are assembled with other components to create the shields, one of the pieces of personal protection equipment desperately needed by healthcare organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WEBSTER CITY — When President Donald Trump appealed to manufacturers to help in the production of personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders, a Webster City firm immediately answered the call to action.

Vantec Inc. is producing part of the vital face shields that hospitals and health care facilities are clamoring to find. The part took very little time to go from design concept to production.

“I reached out to the state when the president put out his call to manufacturers and asked if there was anything we could help with,” said Sherri Behrendt, president and chief executive officer of Vantec.

Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, connected Vantec with Jon Darsee, the chief innovation officer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“That’s how it started,” she said.

-Submitted photo
A completed face shield awaits shipment to an Iowa medical facility. A Webster City manufacturer, Vantec Inc., is creating the halo or headpiece of the shield. The other components of the face shield are made by other Iowa firms and are assembled and distributed by MADE, a initiative at the University of Iowa.

That was less than two weeks ago. The Vantec team worked with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clincs, Proto Studios, MADE and Product Development Partners to get a tool built to produce the part. Once the design for the tool was approved, Don Fisher of Product Development Partners, created a prototype tool in less than three days. He donated the tool and the production began the following day.

Jordan Kaufmann is the senior director of Iowa MADE, a cutting-edge commercialization initiative through the University of Iowa in which products are developed by faculty and staff, prototyped and manufactured locally, then sold directly through a web-based platform.

“The particular piece that Vantec is making is the halo or headpiece of the shield,” said Kaufmann. Several Iowa companies are producing other components of the shields

“We started off with a number of open-source designs that were floating around the internet. We met with some doctors and nursing staff at the University Hospitals and Clinics and showed them these things that were the existing designs,” said Neil Quellhorst, lead engineer with MADE. “None of them were considered to be acceptable, primarily due to disinfecting concerns.”

Chuck Romans, MADE’s lead industrial designer, pulled together the comments from the medical personnel who had reviewed the shields and drew up the design.

“There were a couple of quick changes made and then finally, we got an ‘acceptable’ approval,” said Quellhorst. That’s when they learned that Vantec was willing to manufacture the halos in their Webster City plant.

Rob Jondal, engineer at Vantec, said the team could create about two parts every 30 seconds.

Darsee said the need for the shields was first presented by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“Our mission through MADE will enable us to sell this product to whoever comes to us, provided we have a supply,” Darsee said. “The product is available at cost because the suppliers, for the most part, have been giving us the product at their cost.”

Quellhorst said there two different classifications for the shields. Handmade shields and FDA certified. The handmade shields come from the open source designs floating around the internet.

“These are fine, but they don’t have the FDA certification and rigor behind them,” he said.

He added that most medical professionals will use the handmade items as casual protection. But for encounters with people known to have the coronavirus or for use in surgery or the intensive care unit, health care professionals want to use an FDA certified product, Quellhorst noted.

“Just to meet the FDA requirements, is no small task,” he said. “Jordan’s group is already set up to do this.”

Jondal said the strong collaboration with the design and distribution helped get the halos into production quickly.

“I deal with a lot of products from all sorts of different customers here at Vantec. This one was a special one. We know the importance and the rush of it,” he said. “But we had our conference call on a March 23 and by the following Monday we have a tool and we’re making production parts the next Tuesday.”

Darsee said there is a pool of people at the University of Iowa who are available to step in and help with the assembly of the shields.

Students are also involved in the assembling and distribution of the product.

“They have been phenomenal getting everything together — the paperwork on the back end and getting the assembly process together. They really have responded very well and moved very quickly.

Kaufmann said there have been a few word-of-mouth orders already.

“We’re filling those as quickly as we can,” he said. “It’s really be a cross-state effort to pull together the different components of this shield so we can get them out the door quickly.”

Medical institutions interested in learning more about the shields or ordering the product can contact Kaufmann at Jordan-kaufmann@uiowa.edu .

Behrendt said that Vantec pleased to be able to help with the project.

“The last thing we want to see is loved ones who perish because the frontline medical staff can’t get the proper personal protection equipment,” Behrendt said. “While we can’t solve all the problems, we know that we can help with a piece of that. That’s what we wanted to do.”

She added that other companies have reached out to Vantec about other potential devices they may be able to help make.

“We want to help where we can help in the specialty we can offer,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s about saving lives.”

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