How We Went From Designing Retail Displays to Producing Face Shields During COVID-19
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
Yups - you read that right. POP Specialist Malaysia is shifting its focus to produce our own version of splash face shield during COVID-19 pandemic and this is the story of how it all happened.
You’ve obviously heard that Malaysia - in fact, almost the whole world! - is on lock down and many non-essential businesses like ours were required to stop operations for the moment. For the first few days, I took it as time off and spent my days watching COVID-19 news as well as reading up on it on the Internet. There really wasn’t much that we could do during the Restricted Movement Order (RMO). I was in constant contact with some friends, keeping up with how they were coping with the New Normal and just basically keeping each others’ spirits up.
A few days into lock down, I received an email from a friend about protective face shields. It was really interesting to read and got me thinking: We have the right equipment; can we produce our own version? The same friend who sent that email also mentioned that this was something he would like to explore with us to help support the healthcare workers in Malaysia where these protective face shields were obviously a necessity to better protect them in their day to day during this pandemic.
And so began the conceptualisation of the POP Face Shield...
The next few days, I got down to doing more research and reading up on face shields. There were a lot of parties out there who were also producing their own and it was very interesting to read all about their thought process and ideas using different methods like 3D printing and laser cutting The most exciting ones were those making similar corona virus face shields using just basic supplies! Those were the ones who really inspired me to take this further.
My next step in this was to look at existing face shield designs and see if I could come up with a version that would better suit the healthcare workers. To do this, I came up with a list of criteria I needed to meet for my design:
Manufactured in large quantities quickly
Using materials that can be easily sourced locally but also using very minimal materials. Ideally, I would use paper-based materials which I had an abundance of in the factory
No pre production assembly - fast and easy to assemble
Compact enough for delivery and storage
Comfortable to use (existing face shields have a sponge on top of the forehead that traps heat from hot breath)
Most impotently, using my existing list of machinery:
3D printing (but this would be painfully slow)
Laser cutting (not cost effective)
CNC routing (slow and also not cost effective)
CNC oscillating knife cutters (a possible option but I can only produce at most 500 per day, Not the ideal speed i wanted)
Die cutting machines (this was the best option based on speed and quantity)
And now we design!
The design process was done entirely at home (lock down, remember?) I used a 3D CAD software to come up with a design that would meet all of the above criteria. The end result was a four component and material type of design.
Next - a physical prototype. Here’s where I met with a roadblock. Seeing how I couldn’t get to my factory, how could I use my existing machinery to create this prototype? Thankfully, I had remote access to my factory, the CCTV system, and the phone. I called my machine operators who were living next to the factory and asked for them to help on site. Then I uploaded the CAD files onto my machines to see if whatever I’ve designed would work according to plan. The operators held up the prototype to the CCTV camera so I could view it from my phone and I would then revise my design based on that preview - definitely not the usual way I would work but you gotta be creative in these times!
After many rounds of testing and modifications, I was able to get a version to function as I intended using paper and clear plastic sheets. But with more review and thought gone into it, I decided that maybe paper wasn’t a good option for the face shield. My main concerns throughout this process was material and cost. I could opt to use material A but it wouldn’t be the best fit because of its thickness and of course cost. Or maybe material B would be ideal in terms of functionality but it would cost a lot.
1st Prototype with paper component
What I needed was something that would create a functional structure based on material thickness… but at the same time, it can’t be that thick either or it won’t be cost effective and more importantly, comfortable for the user. I also had to reduce the size of my original design to ensure optimal use of material - last thing you want is material wastage.
More Modifications and prototyping
So I started looking into what other materials I had in hand and after going through more than six rounds of changes to my original design, I finally settled on three different materials that I believe would be ideal for what I had in mind in terms of a quality face shield. It didn’t stop there - I went further to see how I could improve on this design and finally, reduced to only two materials and yet still maintain all the functions of my initial design.
With my machinery capacity, we are able to produce 7,000 pieces of these face shields in a day. We are able to scale up this production significantly by increasing our tooling output and engaging more of our machines.
Then we test it out!
You can’t design something and not try it out on yourself, right? So here’s how I did my own product testing of our face shield: I went for a run.
That to me is the best method to test this as running means breathing more heavily and faster as you would in your normal everyday routine. If the shield remained comfortable throughout my run, then I knew I had something good in hand.
So I did an 8 km treadmill run while wearing the face shield and here’s what I discovered:
Despite breathing heavily, there was no fogging or heat buildup
It remained quite intact despite the constant movement; there was only minimal bouncing
I was actually quite comfortable wearing it, barely noticed that I had it on
Sweat didn’t drip into the eyes
And there you have it - POP Specialist’s very own Face Shield!
Prototype - done. Now what?
All the work I’ve put into getting this physical working prototype for a corona virus face shield would all be a waste of time if I can’t put it out there in the market. That’s the next step - to push our version out.
It’s not as easy as it sounds; we can’t just spend some money advertising, marketing and putting it out there. My whole idea of making our own version was to send them to poorer countries near Malaysia. But the logistics of it all just completely overwhelmed me. Not just the cost of it but more so the way around trying to get it out to these poorer countries.
Initially, I thought a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for our face shield would be the best, most reliable and quickest avenue. Unfortunately, GoFundMe does not support Malaysia. OK, never mind I thought; I’ll speak to some other people I know who may have some ways to get this out there on our own accord.
Not possible - I spoke to a friend who currently works for a NGO and according to her, trying to get around the red tape in other countries would be our biggest challenge. She also explained that very little of the donation value that we would have raised would actually go towards the production of the face shields, no thanks to this red tape again.
Not wanting to let this hinder us from going ahead with our project, I decided to approach some friends from sporting clubs (I run, bike and swim regularly with some buddies) and see if they could help organise a donation drive to get the project going. Thanks to my friends from GoGetter Triathlon Squad,
we actually managed to raise enough funds to produce 3,640 face shields that would be donated to University Malaya Hospital and Selayang Hospital. Some of our face shields also made its way to New York, USA. Donation Drive organised by Elaine Thong.
It may not be anywhere near what I had envisioned for this project but it is definitely a start - and that’s good enough for me. For our first batch, we actually produced over 7,500 pieces. Aside from what was donated to the two hospitals, the rest all sold within a week. We tweaked our design to further improve on it and made some adjustments to our production process to ensure better quality. I’m certain that the next few batches will do just as well.
Getting these face shields out in the first place is an achievement enough, especially for a company that had no business in the first place in producing them.
My next step is to continue to look for funds to help with the production of our corona virus face protective shields. In my opinion, these face shields shouldn’t only be used in the healthcare industry; other front liners need to be protected as well in the future when the lock down is lifted and life goes back to somewhat normal - or as they say it, the New Normal.
We really need to think about how we are going to deal with everyday interactions in public places like restaurants, shopping malls, services after the RMO… the people who work at these places will need to be protected as well and vice versa the people who frequent these places. I wouldn’t be surprised if a face shield becomes an item we carry around with us every day until a proper vaccine is found for corona virus. Until then, it is really up to the community to look out for each other.
How these face shields will help is to give you additional protection on top of your 3-ply mask. Did you know that you probably touch your face up to 16 times an hour? Having this protective shield will serve as a reminder or a prevention to avoid touching our face, eyes, nose - something that is really important these days with corona virus. You never know where your hands have been and the last thing you want is to actually touch a surface with COVID-19 virus and then touch your face subconsciously before you even have the chance to sanitise or wash your hands. Even if you’re wearing a mask, you may accidentally touch certain areas of your face that’s not protected.
The way forward
We’ve also developed face shields for young children, specifically those from 5 to 10 years old.
To get the sales moving, we’ve actually partnered up with resellers on Lazada, Shoppe and Carousell. Some resellers have even posted up educational videos on YouTube and Facebook - check them out here