Ten days ago, Kerry Chin was working in his quiet office, adjusting to life without his staff.
They’d all moved home to work remotely, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Chin was left the sole person on site at the Burnaby offices of his company, Altimus Product Development. The product design firm works with start-ups and tech companies to design a variety of devices, often high-tech ones, using a combination of hardware, software, electronics and mechanical solutions.
Chin had heard about companies jumping into the COVID-19 fight by designing face shields for health-care workers, and he realized it was a project he could also take on.
“I thought, well, I have a whole design office with six 3-D printers doing nothing, and all my staff is at home, so I could fire up the printers myself,” he said.
Chin found open-source design files online and tried them out by making one for himself.
It worked, and he took his first-ever selfie wearing the end result.
When he posted that photo to social media, people came out of the woodwork with requests for face shields and offers to help him get a production project off the ground. He even heard from kindergarten friends he hadn’t seen in decades, volunteering to help with the project.
So Chin went home and shared his plans with his wife, and they decided they’d take it on as a family project, with their nine- and 12-year-old children doing assembly.
“It just went nuts after that,” Chin said.
Chin initially spent about $400 of his own money on supplies before his wife suggested a GoFundMe campaign – which took off as soon as Chin set it up.
“The first night, we raised 1,500 bucks or something before I woke up the next day,” Chin said.
Then individuals and foundations called to offer money, too. In addition to more than $7,000 so far from the GoFundMe campaign, Chin has brought in an extra $8,000 to $10,000 from private donors.
He and his team have set up a website and online database to collect requests for face shields; in the first two days, they received 1,000 requests from all over the region. The team has prioritized getting the finished products to hospitals first, and their shields have already gone to pretty much every major hospital in the Lower Mainland, dropped off by friends of Chin who volunteered their services for the task.
Chin has been able to ramp up his efforts, churning out about 70 face shields a day, thanks to a short-term loan from a tech company who had 3-D printing equipment they weren’t using, along with a new printer purchased by a donor.
This kind of project isn’t what his company does, Chin noted; they’re not a 3-D printing shop, and Chin himself doesn’t even usually operate the printers.
His own business is still going – Chin and his staff are all still working full-time on Altimus projects.
This face shield project is a personal effort, he says, noting he’s basically keeping the printers running around the clock to make it happen.
And the shields he’s currently producing are not official, Health Canada-approved products; they’re designed to meet a short-term emergency need, fast.
“It’s something that’s filling a specific need at a specific time, with urgency,” Chin said.
Chin noted he’s expecting this particular project to be a short-term one, since governments are acting to fill the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health-care workers. Big companies are already getting in on the act, and he said small-scale efforts like his own likely won’t be needed for long.
But he’s already been in talks with the National Research Council, which is funding COVID-19-related projects, and he’s pursuing a plan to get further funding to pursue the next generation of face shield design.
In the meantime, he’s adding one more personal touch to his current face shield campaign. They’ll be giving GoFundMe donors the option of adding a personal message for health-care workers, and each face shield that goes out will carry the attached personal message along with it.
“It’s more like a boutique flower shop we’re running now,” Chin said, noting each face shield was already being shipped with a piece of paper containing usage and cleaning instructions. “Now, it will also have a thank-you note on it.”