BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – This spring, as everyone was beginning to understand the devastating public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeremy and Amy Filko were like many Americans. They felt helpless. They supported passive efforts to flatten the curve, such as wearing masks, social distancing and supporting the lockdown, but wished they could do more.
But when Jeremy Filko, an alumnus of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, looked at their 3D printer, he saw potential. A device that previously had been used as a hobby to fabricate a replica of the starship Enterprise from “Star Trek” for a friend and containers for leftovers could be used to make something helpful for medical workers, he reasoned.
Not only did the Vienna, Va., couple begin producing 3D plastic respirator shields for doctors, nurses and other first responders during the initial shortage, but they also launched the non-profit Collective Shield and a network of like-minded people in the “maker” community worldwide to do the same thing. Their shield designs today are being replicated all over the world.
Filko, who received a Master of Science in Business Analytics through Kelley’s Executive Degree Programs, was looking for something that could be printed quickly, preferably under an hour. It also needed to be flat, so it could be easily mailed and at a reduced cost, and it had to be something simple.
“We decided at a very local, tactical level that maybe I could create something and print it out based on a design from someone else,” he said. “I started scouring the internet. There’s tons of places to get royalty-free downloads for almost anything you could want to 3D print, but I couldn’t find anything that really fit my requirements.”
He ultimately decided to design a protective shield that could be placed over N95 masks and thus extend the number of times the masks could be used, since they were in such short supply. After a series of designs and input received from engineers and others who joined them on a Slack channel, a two-layered face shield was developed.
It features an outer plastic shield with sufficient venting over a skeletal frame holding them both over a medical professional’s N-95 mask. The two flat pieces were printed out in plastic filament (and later die-cut polycarbonate) and could easily be mailed. Since March, thousands of mask covers have been printed and distributed free of charge all over the United States and even to other countries. They have been sent to nursing homes, to Native American reservations and, most recently, to schools.
Strong demand came came quickly
Initially, orders were few and came from friends, but then they “exploded like a gas meter” after an article about the couple appeared in The Washingtonian in late March. Early on, the parents of two rotated shifts throughout the night to manually reload the printers. Amy jokingly told a reporter that their printers provided a soundtrack “somewhere between death metal and improvisational jazz.”
At the peak of the crisis, more than 80 individuals with 3D printers partnered with the Filkos to fulfill orders through Collective Shield. It recently partnered with a similar non-profit organization in the D.C. area that has 30 printers.
“We probably had 20 to 30 people working actively 24 hours a day feeding their printers,” he said. “They would just log onto our web site and as orders came in, they would fulfill them. They would request postage and I would send them PDF files with postage and labels. All they had to do was put it in a box, slap a label on it and ship it.”
Now that the supply chain for N95 masks has largely caught up with the demand, the Filkos and others are producing and shipping a full-face “welder’s style” form of PPE.
The Filkos (pictured above) started out with two 3D printers and have now doubled their personal operation with the purchase of two more printers. They are able to make 64 full-face shields daily. Requests for shields have gone from a trickle of individual asks to those involving hundreds of masks at a time.
“Today, I can keep up with demand with four printers and network of makers is hibernating. If COVID hits us again they are standing by to ramp up production,” he said.
Some of those with printers have started to supply mask shields to medical professionals and first responders in their own communities, a point of pride to Filko, a senior associate and chief scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Appreciation for effort comes through letters and financial support
Masks have always been sent out at no charge, made possible through generous support of nearly 300 donors to a Go Fund Me site, who exceeded Collective Shield’s $20,000 fundraising goal by more than $3,600.
“We track everything to the penny,” Filko said, noting that money is spent on ABS, PETG and PLA filament, new printers and shipping, which is perhaps their largest cost. They aren’t actively raising funds today, but the funding campaign site remains active.
“If things start going a little haywire again, that’s when we may relaunch that campaign or start a new one. But one of the things that’s most important to me is that so many people have contacted us and asked ‘what can I do?’” he said. “As someone who can be a little on the darker side on the view of humanity, this has really helped, not just rekindle, but create a faith and belief for me that society and people want to make a difference, despite many of the things that fall apart and separate us.”
He and his wife, a communications strategist at Booz Allen Hamilton, also have received many letters of thanks as well as pictures. Jeremy served as an armor officer in the U.S.Marine Corps and especially meaningful was a note he received from a fellow Marine, Lt. Gen. H.S. Clardy, commanding general of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force.
“As we mobilized to counter Coronavirus Disease 2019, your sharing of 3D face shield designs allowed us to expedite the mass production of critically important personal protective equipment,” Clardy wrote. “This PPE protected our force, civilians and dependents and allowed us to continue our mission in the Western Pacific.”
Applying lessons learned at Kelley
Filko started his masters at Kelley in 2015, but a year later suffered a traumatic brain injury during a softball game, which delayed his graduation until early 2019. He recently returned to full-time employment and also is an advocate for persons with non-visible disabilities and speaks about their roles in the workforce.
While the business analytics skills acquired through Kelley have been helpful, Collective Shield has been successful as a result of lessons learned through the program’s focus on team-based projects. Before earning his degree, Filko said he might have lacked the confidence to bring in others and allow them to perform their roles.
“Part of what Kelley taught me was how to really and truthfully hand a core function to someone else,” he said. “Really letting go of something and allowing someone else to do it their way was a key aspect to our success. When timelines got really tight, when it could have turned into a morass, that refresh of education from Kelley helped remind me it’s OK to let go, trust in others, and push all the chips into the middle … and do it as a team.”