CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The five 3D printers at NASCAR's Research & Technology center – two delivered in February and installed less than two weeks ago -- are typically focused on composite parts and working on an updated stock car.
But when racing came to a stop March 13 amid the coronavirus pandemic, a handful of NASCAR engineers wondered if the printers could be used to address the shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers. They contacted suppliers and came up with designs for face shields the printers could make. They met with Novant Health, which serves medical facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Now the printers are running 18 hours a day with approximately eight engineers volunteering their time to oversee production from approximately 7 a.m. until midnight every day. The newest printer, about the size of an outdoor shed, can print three face shields every 2½ hours.
“That’s the one we try to keep running almost nonstop,” Eric Jacuzzi, senior director of NASCAR’s aerodynamics and vehicle performance, told The Associated Press. “We have people that are actually having their teenage children help with cutting the clear facial part as part of their volunteer work at home, six of us running the machines, and more people reaching out to help.”
NASCAR is donating the face shields as part of the charitable community acts the series does every year. The sanctioning body has followed Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota — NASCAR’s three manufacturers — as companies from the automotive industry that have pivoted production to PPE during the global crisis.
Ford this week said beginning in April it will work with GE Healthcare to build air-pressured ventilators, with a target of manufacturing 50,000 units in the next 100 days from a Michigan components plant. Ford is also providing engineers and facilities to assist 3M’s production or air-purifying respirators.
General Motors partnered with Ventec Life Systems to build ventilators and has vowed to produce more than 50,000 face masks per day. Ventec and GM said the FDA-cleared ventilators are scheduled to ship “as soon as” April, they can raise production to 10,000 critical care ventilators per month and have the capability to increase output. GM also said it was donating resources at cost.
Toyota is building face shields and collaborating with medical device companies to speed the manufacturing of ventilators.
Others across motorsports have also stepped up.
Brad Keselowski last year started Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, which is equipped with a combination of 3D printers and CNC machining. Keselowski said he has “joined forces with groups endeavoring to meet the face shield production needs of those in healthcare.”
Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate at Team Penske, has established a $1 million Response and Recovery Fund through his foundation.
“Right now, the world is experiencing a situation like we’ve never seen before,” Logano said, noting the foundation “will help provide funding and necessary supplies for organizations in need during this scary time.”
Across the street from NASCAR’s R&D Center at Roush Fenway Racing, the organization is manufacturing open-sourced plastic aerosol boxes to protect medical professionals as they treat COVID-19 patients. Roush Fenway also donated N95 masks to two North Carolina hospitals. Steve Newmark, president of Roush, told AP some employees are now working with Roush Industries on additional PPE designs and needs.
CORE Autosport, a sports car team in IMSA, retooled its race shop to manufacture face masks for medical professionals. It had sold thousands of emergency medical masks by Tuesday.
Technique, which supplies chassis kits for NASCAR teams, retooled its Michigan factory to double its production to 20,000 face shields by the end of this week.
NHRA’s Don Schumacher Racing and its manufacturing arm have teamed with 3D printer Stratasys to produce headbands to be used with medical face shields. DSR has committed both of its 3D printers to round-the-clock production.
“We have the capability, so of course we wanted to do whatever we could to support vulnerable medical personnel that are working so hard during these unprecedented times," Schumacher said.
Jacuzzi said NASCAR quickly realized it had the equipment to help.
“Having that capability and just letting it sit seemed like not the right thing,” said Jacuzzi, who is producing 200 face shields for Novant and another 40 for a pediatric center in Georgia.
Jacuzzi is also working with a group at North Carolina State University that can guide hospitals to 3D printers producing PPE's.
“Just being around the industry and recognizing the needs, and NASCAR does do a good amount of charitable work,” Jacuzzi said. “When you get a chance to breathe, you are sitting around watching the news and you think, ‘We just put this big, beautiful new machine in, let’s see what we can do and use it for something good.'”