Biro, Protolabs Team Up For Rapid PPE

Nidec engineer uses design and project management skills in PPE production

When the COVID-19 crisis began to emerge, Josh Biro, like so many people throughout the country, wanted to make a personal contribution to help. And as the pandemic evolved, the Nidec mechanical engineer has been using his skills to help healthcare workers on the frontlines of battling the virus, the company told Electrical Apparatus in an email April 20.

The results: After designing a low-cost, reusable plastic face shield, Biro and other volunteers have been at work producing more than 1,000 of these vital pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers at SSM Healthcare and St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis—where Nidec’s North American headquarters are located—as they work tirelessly to contain the pandemic. The state of Missouri had recorded 7,450 cases of COVID-19, including 330 deaths, as of April 29, according to Johns Hopkins CSSE, but the supplies aren’t limited to Nidec’s home state.

In his work as a mechanical engineer, Biro (pictured, right) is responsible for designing robotic applications for the motion control business unit of Nidec Motor Corporation (NMC), a leading manufacturer of commercial industrial and appliance motors and controls. His partner is a critical care nurse at a local hospital, and after describing what kinds of personal protection equipment they use on the floor, he decided to use his skills to help.

His plan began to come together when he heard a news report detailing a face mask design that could be produced through the use of 3D printers. Due to its early effectiveness and rapid processing, this method has been in use by major industrial manufacturers like Siemens, Honeywell, and ABB over the past two months in response to the virus. Inspired by one report, Biro tracked down a design online and modified it “to make the shield more robust,” Nidec says. His mask has evolved into a plastic-molded bracket that holds a clear polycarbonate shield that can be cleaned easily. It provides the wearer with a high level of protection, is reusable and includes memory foam in the straps for enhanced comfort for long hours in the field. Feedback from the field, as well as NMC’s internal capability to rapidly prototype new products, allowed the initial design concepts to go into production in less than a week.

“As he considered the next steps, Biro approached NMC with his plan for how the company and his teammates might be able to utilize their resources and expertise to also participate,” the company stated. “NMC had already provided hundreds of N95 masks to BJC and SSM Healthcare facilities in St. Louis and readily agreed to support his plan to include others as he sought materials and a workforce to increase his output.

Biro also found a helpful partner in Protolabs, a rapid prototyping and on-demand production company headquartered in Maple Plain, Minn., which provided him with injection molded parts through their industry-leading digital manufacturing services for the shield brackets. The company, which employs CNC machining and sheet metal techniques as well in a process it calls “accelerated manufacturing”, waived its normal costs for expedited production and delivered the parts to his home in an astounding four days. Tuell Tool Company, which is located in St. Louis, Mo., generously donated their services to cut the parts for the PPE assembly.

Biro’s apartment, where he was already working remotely as a social distancing precaution put in place by NMC to ensure employee safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, soon resembled a well-stocked warehouse. Any visitor would have been surprised to see boxes of parts and supplies stacked everywhere in addition to a makeshift assembly line in full production mode.

To aid production efforts, he distributed parts to Motion Control coworkers and others so that production and distribution could become even more expedient. They now have the materials to produce 1,000 shields, and that may be just the beginning. Depending on how the community’s needs evolve, they are ready to ramp up production even further if healthcare providers’ needs continue to grow.

When asked about his inspiration to take on such a large undertaking, Biro explained, “With such a great need in our community, I discovered an opportunity where my skill set and resources fit in perfectly. I feel like we are all contributing however we can, and I found a great opportunity to do my part. This was personal to me, as it involved my family. I am super thankful to be part of an organization like Nidec Motor Corporation that was so willing to allow our team to take time out of our schedules, come together, and put our resources to use helping the community”.

Parent company Nidec Corporation, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan, is comprised of approximately 300 group companies employing over 100,000 people all over the world. Nidec is the world’s No.1 comprehensive motor manufacturer and offers a wide variety of motors ranging from micro-size to super large, as well as application products and services in IT, automation, home appliances, automobiles, commercial and industrial systems, environmental, energy, and many other businesses. Nidec is proud to be part of your daily life.


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