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From pinballs to protective face shields

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Brandon Johnson tries on a face shield that was printed with a 3D printer by Mezel Mods, which normally makes pieces for displays in pinball machines. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The garage-style office of Mezel Mods in Rio Rancho is filled with pinball machines.

The company specializes in making accessories for pinball machines with 3D printers, but on Thursday afternoon, Mezel Mods started a new kind of production.

The company began using its printers to produce face shields for health care workers who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle. Owners Kristin Browning-Mezel and Tim Mezel have teamed with Andrew Woodward, the owner of Process Art Studio in Madrid, New Mexico, to make the shields that protect health care workers from contracting the virus.

“When this whole thing started, the outbreak,” Browning-Mezel said, “I said, ‘Is there a way to be helpful that we can make a difference?’ ”

The companies have already received their first orders for about 1,000 shields from La Familia, which serves more than 18,000 low-income and homeless patients in Santa Fe, and two other agencies in the Farmington area that offer in-home health care. Browning-Mezel said they have also reached out to Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless.

Small businesses across the country with 3D printers have stepped up to help make crucial gear that is in short supply, Browning-Mezel said.

“The large manufacturers were not jumping in immediately,” she said. “So the maker community started getting involved.”

During a media briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham discussed the shortage of personal protection equipment (called PPE), including masks, shields, gowns and gloves, that helps prevent health care workers from contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The governor said those materials should go to those on the front lines of the pandemic battle. The New Mexico Department of Health on Tuesday issued an order requiring wholesalers to get state approval before selling their available equipment to make sure the materials are going to health care workers.

Parts printed with a 3D printer to help manufacture face shields. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Browning-Mezel said that because of the urgent need for the shields, they’ve had to cobble together their production and hustle to find the materials, which are also in great demand. It’s taken a collaboration of several local businesses to provide everything needed to make the shields.

Browning-Mezel said they are currently making shields for organizations that do not necessarily have the ability to pay. The community can make a donation to offset the costs. A donation of $10 will pay for one mask. Browning-Mezel said she has already received a $1,000 donation.

Mezel Mods is committing half of its operation to make the shields while still making products for its regular business. She said that might change if the demand becomes greater.

“We are trying to respond to where the need is,” she said. “The people we are helping now were unable to get the supplies at all. We also need more 3D printers and are putting out a call to action.”

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