In 48 Hours, Company Pivots to Make Medical Face Shields

In 48 Hours, Company Pivots to Make Medical Face Shields

This series features MBL community members who in some way are addressing the coronavirus crisis. Suggestions for future profiles may be sent here.

By Diana Kenney

From their Bay Area home, Amanda Martinez and Rob McGinnis read news reports, with growing unease, on the dire lack of protective gear for medical workers as COVID-19 raced through New York City in March.

“It was just horrifying. Rob was thinking, what can we do?” says Martinez, formerly a summer science writer in MBL Communications.

McGinnis suddenly realized his company, Prometheus Fuels, has equipment that could be used to carve plastic to make medical face shields. Incredibly, within 48 hours a small team at Prometheus turned out its first shipment of shields, which went to a COVID-19-only hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A note of thanks from medical staff at HealthCare Plus, Chicago.

“It happened super fast,” says Martinez, vice-president of brand and strategy for Prometheus Fuels.

Searching online, McGinnis found an open-access design for a face shield created at the Makerspace at University of Wisconsin, Madison. He ordered a few pallets of sheet plastic, foam strips that go across the forehead, and elastic to secure the shields. The next day, “We fired up the company’s massive water jet cutter to carve through the plastic, and started making them right away,” Martinez says.

The shields were received with gratitude and relief, and Prometheus has kept going. The company has now made 3,100 shields and shipped them to hospitals in 14 cities.

A poster for Prometheus Fuels’ face shields designed by Vin Dang and Martin Hinze, based on the original Rosie the Riveter poster by J. Howard Miller.

“We’ve gotten amazing feedback,” Martinez says. “Hospitals often send us pictures of staff wearing our face shields, and every time, it makes our day.”

Meanwhile, Prometheus Fuels is going full speed ahead to deliver its innovative product, a carbon-neutral gasoline for cars and other vehicles, within the next year. “In our interstitial moments, it’s easy to put more face shields together, put them in a box and run them to the UPS Store,” Martinez says.

The astounding national need for adequate PPE for health care providers persists. In a May
survey, 87 percent of nurses reported having to reuse disposable, single-use masks or respirators when treating COVID-19 patients. Given they are on the front lines of care, the nurses also reported a high rate of infection themselves.

“One doctor said to us, ‘Please keep making these shields. It takes years to make a doctor,’” Martinez says. “Rationally, we know they go to medical school for years, but something about that really stuck with me. We will keep making these shields for as long as people need them.”

Top image: Amanda Martinez holds a face shield made for medical workers in the manufacturing facility of Silicon Valley-based Prometheus Fuels. Credit: Prometheus Fuels