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NEWS | April 2, 2020

PSNS & IMF explores ways to capitalize on in-house skills to support workforce in face of COVID-19

By Max Maxfield, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

Workers at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility are thinking creatively and determining how the shipyard can best prepare for the challenges workers might face from the COVID-19 pandemic. One such effort includes making cloth masks and polycarbonate face shields that can be used to protect the workforce, or provided to Naval Hospital Bremerton and local hospitals if the need arises. 

“I could not be prouder of our team for thinking outside the box and taking the initiative to explore how we can best serve our workforce and the local community during this dynamic time,” said Capt. Dianna Wolfson, commander, PSNS & IMF. “These efforts exemplify our Command Guiding Principles and values—including teamwork, ingenuity and respect for every individual.”

According to Dakota King, a nuclear training supervisor with Shop 64, Sail Loft, fabric workers in the sail loft realized they had the skill sets and the command had the tools and materials to make cloth masks for use by the PSNS & IMF workforce, and that could potentially be donated to the local medical community if officially requested.

While the cloth masks PSNS & IMF makes are considered “homemade,” King said the PSNS & IMF team aimed to find a design and materials that would protect the wearers as much as possible.

“Some of us made the suggestion through our chain of command,” said King. “Once we got approval, we got to work.”

The teams started with a basic mask template they found on the internet. After making some prototypes, PSNS & IMF shared photos of the masks with Naval Hospital Bremerton. Based on feedback from the hospital, the design was altered slightly and production began in earnest March 25. 

Several fabric workers each shift are assembling the cloth masks. When production first started, King estimated Shop 64 was producing around 200 masks a day. Production has since increased to around 500 masks a day.

“We use Grade A linen to make the masks, and we cut the linen out in two different directions, or what we call alternating bias,” said King. “We sat down with Code 106, Environmental, Safety and Health Programs and they gave us some specifications, which require four layers of alternating bias.”

The command utilizes Grade A linen regularly on projects, and the fabric is cut with a large computer-controlled fabric cutter.

In order to ensure the masks securely fit to wearers’ faces, workers from Shop 17, the Sheet Metal Shop, programmed a laser cutter to produce hundreds of bendable aluminum nose pieces.

The Shop 64 workers sewing the parts together wear gloves and masks to avoid contaminating the finished product.

3D-printing and plastics expertise

Workers in Shop 31, Toolmakers Shop, also realized they could produce a piece of personal protective equipment to help protect the workforce. According to Steve Christensen, an additive manufacturing coordinator with Shop 31, his teammates focused on designing and 3D printing plastic face shields, similar to those used by medical professionals.

The team utilized an open-source 3D-printing file and divvied up the work. One group programmed a laser engraver to begin cutting out the 1mm thick polycarbonate face shields. The polycarbonate is the big clear part of a face shield that protects the wearer’s eyes, mouth and nose from sprayed contaminants.

According to Christensen, this is about twice as thick as polycarbonate used on many commercially available face shields. The design used by the PSNS & IMF team includes a simple way for the polycarbonate face shields to be snapped together with the ABS plastic head pieces.

A second group is using 3D printers to make the head pieces. They are currently printing 54 head pieces a day. Christensen said they could quickly double production by using additional printers if called upon to do so.

“We chose ABS plastic because these masks will have to be cleaned with alcohol after they are used,” said Christensen. “ABS plastic is non-reactive to alcohol and doesn’t soak up any of the solvent we use in the finishing part of manufacturing process.”

These printers are normally used by PSNS & IMF to make prototypes, mock-ups, training aids and valves.

“This COVID-19 pandemic is bringing new challenges to us every day,” said Wolfson. “We are lucky we have a dedicated mission-oriented team who care not only for their own teammates, but for the community at large.”