Business development / COVID-19 / Funding / Manufacturing

How an aerospace manufacturer shifted its operations to make reusable face shields for Baltimore medical workers

LAI International is one of 20 Maryland companies that received grants from the state's fund for PPE makers.

Kyle Duble, Forrest Rosenbloom and Marlon Johnson of LAI International inspect a face shield. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of's Healthcare Technologies Month of our editorial calendar.

Updated at 3:05 p.m., 4/29/20

For over 40 years, advanced manufacturing company LAI International has made components for the defense and aerospace industry, as well as surgical devices, bringing technology like waterjet cutting, laser technology and other machining tools.

Now, the company is turning those tools and engineering capability toward the mobilization against COVID-19.

The Westminster-based company is producing face shields for local hospitals that are in need of protective equipment for doctors and nurses treating the disease that’s causing a global pandemic. After design, retooling and testing, the company had 1,500 face shields out to seven local hospitals and healthcare providers in less than two weeks.

“Just showing that we’re doing the small part that we could possibly do was a feel-good story for the whole entire shop,” said LAI International CEO Marlon Johnson.

This week, the company was one of the 20 in Maryland that received state grants to pivot or expand production of personal protective equipment. Administered by the Maryland Department of Commerce, the $1.6 million was given in the first round of grants from the Maryland COVID-19 Emergency Relief Manufacturing Fund.

Gov. Larry Hogan has said ramping up the supply of personal protective equipment is a key “building block” for being able to reopen. With local companies enlisting to help, the fund is providing additional capital for the new operations.

“We quickly created this program to address an immediate critical need, and our business community has responded in a big way,” Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said in a statement. Another nine companies received grants from the City of Baltimore two weeks ago, and Station North makerspace Open Works has mobilized makers to 3D print face shields.

For LAI, the process meant iterating. Looking at the existing disposable face shield designs that were available and the additive manufacturing tools at the company’s 50-associate shop, Johnson asked his team, “How can we take it up a notch?”

A key component of LAI International’s design is that the shields are reusable. The company also wanted them to be comfortable, so that “when the physician wears them or the nurse wears them, it feels like glasses,” Johnson said. Subscribing to the idea that one shouldn’t ship a product before ensuring the maker would use it themselves, the CEO and others wore the face shields as they were working to test them. After all, they’re used to wearing protective glasses in the shop.

There was also collaboration. For clinical testing, they worked with Dr. Alan H. Shikani, who is the chief of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital and LifeBridge Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. And to retool the operation, they worked with Shannon Van Deren, who is president of Layered Manufacturing.

The shields have since been delivered to Medstar’s Union Memorial, Good Samaritan and Georgetown hospitals; LifeBridge Health’s Sinai and Carroll hospitals; and institutions in the Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland networks.

Going forward, LAI is looking to continue production, and ramping up to make 1,000 face shields a week.

Here’s a look at the other companies that received grants:

  • Awesome Ninja Labs, of Baltimore City, is a medical device company that is now making face shields.
  • CoastTec, of Carroll county, typically makes battery back-ups for computers. Now it is making battery packs for Vyaire ventilators.
  • CR Daniels, of Howard County, is a textile, plastics, and metal manufacturer making face masks and gowns.
  • DiPole Materials, the Pigtown-based custom nanofiber manufacturer, is making filters for medical masks and respirators.
  • DVF Corporation, of Washington County, makes metal and plastic fabrications. Now it is making plastic components for respirators.
  • Fashions Unlimited, the Pigtown-based custom apparel manufacturer, is making surgical masks and protective gowns.
  • Fabrication Events, of Howard County, went from making special event decor to face masks, head coverings, and other PPE.
  • Harbor Designs and Manufacturing of Pigtown is seeking to address the ventilator shortage.
  • Hardwire, LLC, of Worcester County, typically makes bulletproof body armor and equipment for law enforcement and the military. Now it is making face shields.
  • K&W Finishing, the Baltimore city service provider of traditional die cutting, coating, and other bindery services, is making face shields.
  • Key Technologies, the South Baltimore design and manufacturing company, is making blower units for positive air pressure respirators.
  • Manta BioFuels, the IMET-born energy technology company, is making face shields.
  • Marty’s Bag Works, of Anne Arundel County, makes canvas boating products, cushions, laser printing and bags. The company is now making surgical masks, face shields and lightweight gowns.
  • Nations Photo Lab, of Baltimore County, is a full-service photo printing company making face shields.
  • NRL & Associates, of Queen Anne’s County, is an ultra-precision machining, fabrication and assembly company that is addressing the shortage of ventilators.
  • Potomac Photonics, the bwtech@UMBC-based biotech and medical device firm, is making visors for PPE.
  • Rankin Upholstery, of Montgomery County, makes auto, marine, aircraft and custom upholstery. It is now making masks, gowns, and other PPE.
  • Strouse, a Carroll County adhesive solutions company, is making N95 masks.
  • X-Laser, of Howard County, makes laser light show systems. Now it is making face shields.
Series: Healthcare Technologies Month 2020 / Coronavirus

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