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Production-Based Makerspace Inventory & Volunteer Support for PPE Production

Design and implement a database solution for tracking supplies, finished products and volunteer interaction to deliver PPE to hospitals.

Photo of Cynthia Reifsnider
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The Research and Impact Team from UNC-Chapel Hill's Innovate Carolina department are pivoting our custom Network Database to support our campus makerspace team and volunteer's in producing visor face shields for UNC Hospitals. Pivoting to a production-base operation from a teaching/learning environment, we are working to track supplies and costs as well as create an end-to-end log of volunteer interaction with the parts and finished shields in case of infection or breakage - products can be identified after delivery if an issue arises.

What is the need are you focusing on?

UNC Hospitals asked our BeAM @ UNC (Be A Maker) network to help bridge the gap in PPE. The BeAM staff evaluated options and determined that visor face shields would be the most effective (cost, time) product for them to make. Within just a few weeks, supplies are sourced, a design made and approved by healthcare workers, volunteers recruited by the School of Medicine student team, and shields are being produced.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Sharing an actual pivot your organization has already made

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

From academic (curricular and co-curricular) application of our Network Database and platform, we pivoted to the needs of a production level environment. Given the immediate need and the requirements of mass production (40,000 units or more), ease of use is key. Data tracking for each step of the supply chain is also important. Through form-based data entry accessed by QR code scans to bluetooth-based printing of box labels, we've leveraged mobile technology to gather data and report daily impact.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

We hope to help protect our front-line healthcare workers at UNC Health (hospitals and offices) during the PPE shortage. We also want to share best practices with our peers across North Carolina (NC Makerspace Network) and other UNC system schools. By supporting volunteers' assembly of face shield parts into finished products, we are helping keep them safe through social distancing. We also produce detailed box labels for delivery of the finished products to UNC Health, making it easy for them to track the source of the PPE in case of concerns about damage, flaws or possible infection. Production-level support requires a fast response, mobile device support and detailed data tracking and reporting.

What is the name of your business or organization?

Innovate Carolina (Office of the Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development) at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

We are an institute of higher education. Carolina innovators put important ideas to use for the public good. Innovate Carolina's mission is to strengthen an intentional culture of innovation and to make UNC-Chapel Hill a place where innovators thrive. ( We are a pan-university support team, partnering with numerous Innovation and Entrepreneurship programs across campus and extend our network to regional partners and alumni. We provide strategic support to implement new ideas and programs. We also measure impact of innovative programs.

What is your profession?

Database administrator and information professional

Where are you located (country)?

United States

Where are you located (region)?

  • North America

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Academia/Research

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 250+

How old is your business/company?

  • 10 or more years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Nonprofit/NGO

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- NGOs
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Private Sector

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • No

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

Staff availability - it takes time to track supplies and products even with a streamlined system. System design, implementation and reporting also takes time. The need to be flexible with technology solutions - mobile printing was a last-minute addition but one of the most useful, for example. Tracking costs, orders and receipt of materials in order to accurately budget and account for goods can be challenging - in academia, we are not used to a business-paced environment.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

Be flexible. Try to plan ahead for multiple contingencies. Ask questions but stay flexible as those in the workspace implement solutions that we who are working remotely are development. Design thinking is key. Coordinating with purchasing staff and business officers is key. Maintain a watchful eye on the system for updates and maintenance.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?

We used an open-source design for our face shield, completing modifications based on available equipment as well as feedback from healthcare professionals. We coordinate with the NC Makerspace Network to share best practices as well as design and supplies when possible. I attend regular videoconference meetings as well as share information via a Google Group.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Susan Jackewicz

Hello Cynthia Reifsnider  Thank you for posting this idea, a great rapid pivot utilizing your many resources. Making shields quickly to support your medical teams is admirable. I'm interested in your focus on the production process...very thorough, drilling down to basics and essentials. There are quite a number of face shield producing ideas posted here on this Challenge, with a number of them being from developing countries. I'm curious if you think what you've learned might be translated (in whole or in part) to help people in less advantaged environments attempting to produce their own shields?

Photo of Cynthia Reifsnider

Hi, Susan,
As we've just passed the 30,000 face shield mark, there are a few key points we've learned.
(1) Production is different than academic or for-fun making. It's required tracking of finished products in case of contamination, and we still have work to do to make supplies tracking manageable for the staff.
(2) It's about supply chain. We had some concerns along the way about availability, but thanks to some established relationships and a persistent project manager, we have had few delays.
(3) Design and selection of tools is IMPORTANT. We designed alongside our healthcare professionals but applied key "maker" knowledge and ingenuity. The simple design was best - 3 components and cutting of parts only - no 3D printer used. This gave us speed in production as well as some flexibility in materials (see point 1 on supply chain).

Photo of Susan Jackewicz

Wow! Congrats on that piece count! And thanks for lessons learned re: process, supply chains, good tools and simplicity targeting just what's necessary. It seems for everyone "supply chain" can be a big chink in a smooth process....