NEWS | June 3, 2020

Organic industrial base facility fields request for medical PPE

By Ms. Jacqueline Boucher

TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, PENNSYLVANIA - Professionals in the health care field turned to innovators on the installation for help dealing with a global public health issue.

Tobyhanna Army Depot personnel readily accepted a challenge issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC), Wilkes-Barre, to produce intubation cubes from sheets of Plexiglas. Depot craftsmen transformed the clear material into personal protection equipment (PPE) that will be used by medical staff in the medical center. The cube acts as a barrier between infectious materials and a person’s skin, mouth, nose or eyes.

In recent months, Team Tobyhanna has applied years of knowledge and expertise to field requests to fabricate items that are hard to come by during the fight against the coronavirus disease. Projects include providing parts for powered air purifying respirators used by the VA medical facility, collaborating with military medical technicians to develop and produce power supplies for ventilators, and improving the quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing members of the depot’s workforce by creating see-through face masks.

“Individuals working on the intubation cube project understood its importance and the need to develop them quickly,” said William Feher, industrial hygienist at the Wilkes-Barre VAMC. “The cubes have been designed very well and work with our two main bed configurations.”

Team Tobyhanna produced 24, small and large, cubes based on a drawing provided by the medical facility and under the tenets of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization. Employees spent about an hour on each cube -- bending, cutting and gluing the five pieces of 1/8-inch Plexiglas into shape. Multiple prototypes were tested based on feedback from the users.

Feher explained that the cubes will be used during certain aerosol generating procedures. The cube minimizes exposure to aerosol and droplet mist from being spread onto staff and adjacent equipment while working with individuals, he added.

Machining Branch employees cut the parts according to specifications and Sheet Metal Fabrication Branch personnel shaped and joined the sections to form the finished product.

“The team working on this project did an excellent job,” said Mike Yurkovic, chief of the Systems Integration and Support Directorate’s Sheet Metal Fabrication Branch. “Working with Plexigas comes with its own set of challenges and the team was able to take a flat pattern and bend it to a three dimensional part.” Yurkovic remarked that one of his employees even came in over the weekend to keep the project on track.

Techniques developed during the project produced a superior product, according to Engineering Technician (Mechanical) Robert VanBrunt. Among other things, the engineering technician is credited with writing the program to cut the materials into the correct shapes. He works in the Production Engineering Directorate’s Design, Development and Fabrication Engineering Division.

“The edges came out really nice and the quality of the product can be attributed to the knowledge and skill of the employees,” he said.

Cutting the Plexiglas required special handling, state-of-the-art equipment and a skilled water jet machine operator.

“The stakes were high on this project,” said Keith Knecht, chief of the Machining Branch. “We had to meet a different set of standards established by medical experts. Everyone understood the significance of this project and I couldn’t be more proud of their performance.”