Behrend project to donate $50,000 to medical support organizations

Funding grew from initiative that produced 126,000 COVID-19 face shields
A man wears a plastic medical face shield

A production team assembled by Penn State Behrend has manufactured 126,000 COVID-19 medical face shields since the start of the pandemic.

Credit: Ian Chanas

ERIE, Pa. — A manufacturing and product-design team assembled by Penn State Behrend will donate more than $50,000 to non-profit organizations that are supporting medical personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding includes $25,000 for the Erie County COVID-19 Response Fund, which is administered by the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority.

The money is from a contingency budget for the White Label Face Shields project, which produced 125,000 plastic face shields for hospital and health-care workers in six states. An additional 1,000 shields were distributed at no cost during a drive-up public donation event at Bliley Technologies.

The shields were sold with a minimal contingency built into the pricing. None of the vendors had major production issues, so the contingency funding was not needed. At the start of the project, it was decided that any unused contingency funding would be donated as demand for the shields was met and the project ended.

“The goal of the project was always to support front-line medical personnel, first by providing essential protective equipment, which was scarce at the start of the pandemic,” said Steve Rosenzweig, director of finance at Bliley Technologies. “As the project nears its completion, we’re pleased to be able to extend that support through several non-profit organizations that continue to focus on the health and well-being of medical workers. Bliley and our partners will continue to be available for production and distribution as conditions warrant through the rest of the year.”

In addition to the money for the Erie County COVID-19 Response Fund, which has provided immediate relief to food pantries, homeless shelters and elder-care centers, as well as low-interest loans to local businesses, the White Label team will donate $25,000 to #GetUsPPE, a national clearinghouse for personal protective equipment. The organization has distributed more than one million pieces of PPE.

An additional $1,500 will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which has seen a 400% increase in calls since the start of the pandemic.

Bliley Technologies assembled and distributed the shields, which were designed in part by Jason Williams, an assistant teaching professor of engineering at Behrend. He and two partners — Ian Charnas, director of innovation and technology at the Sears think[box] at Case Western Reserve University, and Bill Rabbitt, an engineer at Nottingham Spirk, a Cleveland-based product design company — designed the shields so they could be injection-molded. That cut the build time from three hours to less than 40 seconds.

Williams helped bring in the other partners, building a supply chain that could produce 10,000 shields every day. In addition to Bliley Technologies, the team included Port Erie Plastics, which built the mold; Munot Plastics, which produced the shields; the R.C. Musson Rubber Company, which manufactured the rubber straps; and Lake Erie Transport, which shipped orders at a reduced rate.

“This project is a great example of the Open Lab, our university-industry strategy, which is built on constant engagement with external partners in business, industry and the non-profit community,” Williams said. “We knew we could assemble this team and deliver the PPE quickly because the relationships were already in place.”

That includes the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, which provided essential funding at the start of the project. A $6,700 grant from the agency paid for the production mold. An additional $15,600 from ECGRA provided a second mold for the headband that secures the face shield, as well as die-cutting of the assembly’s rubber strap. That allowed the partners to double production of the shields.

ECGRA purchased more than 5,500 face shields, which are being provided to employees of Erie County’s public schools. Another 500 shields were given to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, and to local fire departments.

“We designed this as a short-term project, with the understanding that any contingency funding that was left at the end of production would be donated to COVID-19 non-profit funds, such as the Erie County COVID-19 Response Fund at ECGRA,” Williams said. “They’ve shown a commitment to seeking and supporting projects that move Erie forward, and we’re proud to be part of that.”