Piper To Build Medical Face Shields During Pandemic

Piper protective gear
Credit: Piper Aircraft

Piper Aircraft, based in Vero Beach, Florida, has set up a small assembly line to manufacture thousands of plastic medical protective face shields for area hospitals during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

It also plans to donate more than 1,300 3M-brand N95-approved masks to the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Memorial Hospital in Vero Beach. Production plans for the face shields, made from plastic, industrial tape, foam and elastic, are growing. 

What started as an idea to make 2,000 shields for the Cleveland Clinic has grown to 10,000 and then to more than 50,000 for additional Cleveland Clinic hospitals in Florida. 

Other hospitals are contacting Piper as well. 

“Calls are coming in every day,” Jackie Carlon, Piper senior director of marketing and communications, said March 30.

In less than a week, Piper moved from an idea to prototypes and production. The company has the ability to produce thousands of face shields daily as long as it can procure the plastic it needs. That is the challenge, Carlon said. 

The idea to help in the fight against the virus causing COVID-19 emerged from a regular meeting, she said. Simon Caldecott, president and CEO, approached Piper’s manufacturing engineers to ask what the company might do to help. The engineers had been following the shortage of personal protective equipment and looking for ways to help. They began discussing face shields and found a pattern online. 

 In the meantime, the head of the Cleveland Clinic hospital called Caldecott to ask whether Piper could assist. 

Initially, Piper said it would make 2,000 face shields, Carlon said. “Then the hospital called and said, ‘Could you make 10,000?’” Now, the number is likely to grow beyond the 50,000 in the plan, she said. The company is charging a nominal fee to cover costs but is not out to make a big profit. 

 “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” Carlon said. 

It is a critical time for the community, the country and the world, said James Funk, Piper’s chief operations officer. “As a team, we can make a difference for people in need and directly support those fighting the battle on the front lines of this unprecedented crisis. This is just one small way that we are trying to help.” 

The production line, separate from aircraft manufacturing, is made up of nine employees working at least 6 ft. apart.

Piper can make 40 shields from one large sheet of plastic. On March 30, workers completed the first batch of 650 shields and were awaiting another plastic shipment, expected to be delivered later that day. 

“The challenge is to get enough plastic,” Carlon said. “We sourced everything we could.” 

At the same time, Piper, Vero Beach’s largest employer, continues to build aircraft but at a slower rate than normal. 

The aircraft are sold but many buyers can’t travel to Florida to pick them up. Many flight schools have temporarily closed.

“We’re stacking them up,” Carlon said of the finished aircraft. Some private flight schools or dealers, however, have been able to take delivery of their new aircraft. Piper is also supporting aircraft in the field.

In the meantime, the company is striving to keep workers as far away from one another as possible. It must balance the safety of the employees with their livelihoods and the needs of business, Carlon said. 

“If we can balance it and keep them safe and where they’re not being exposed, we’ll keep working,” Carlon said, at least until there is a government mandate to do otherwise. 

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.