“We arranged this very quickly”

Just before the intelligent lockdown, Christian Waber of Snijlab, his partner and several friends discussed a Czech initiative they had seen: face masks for medical staff made on a 3D printer. ‘We wondered if it was useful because 3D printing is expensive and slow. Before we knew it, we had designed a prototype for a face shield that you can laser cut locally, quickly and economically.’ They are now producing 1,000 a day.

Do you usually design things?

‘We are normally the executing party. Snijlab is a webshop: we use a laser to cut out designs that customers deliver to us digitally. We make anything on a flat plane for individuals and companies; from birth announcements cut in wood to huge plastic plates for the creative sector. We design a lot internally and once made a well-known design: a wooden folder for a notepad. But this is the first time that we are producing a design of our own on such a large scale.’

Why face shields?

‘Due to Corona, there is a great demand in the healthcare sector for face masks, glasses and splash shields. These are – always – necessary to protect healthcare personnel from coughing and sneezing patients. The National Resources Consortium of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport appealed to the market to rapidly develop non-profit medical devices for which a shortage is imminent. Our face shield is a combination of glasses, face mask and splash shield in one.’

How did you come into contact with Erasmus MC?

‘A colleague of ours knew someone there and showed them our prototype. He was immediately enthusiastic. In consultation, we made the screen a bit smaller and chose other material that can be properly disinfected. Erasmus MC immediately ordered 10,000 of the final model. We are now busy with production. The screen consists of four flat parts that we cut ourselves. Then those parts have to be assembled.’

And for that you use volunteers?

‘Yes. We want to make the face shields at cost. The cutting is not a problem but we don’t have assembly employees. Assembling one face shield takes about half a minute. For the order for the Erasmus MC, we needed eight volunteers for ten days. We placed an appeal on LinkedIn and Instagram, and about 150 volunteers registered in no time.’

Do they do the assembly at home?

‘No, we set up a workplace in the Speelfabriek owned by someone we know. Normally, fun things for children are organised in the factory, but now it’s closed. In this space, we were able to set up workplaces at a sufficient distance from each other. I did notify the local police officer so that he understood what was going on. We delivered the first 5,000 face shields last week. We’ll make the rest this week.’

What about your earnings?

‘As with most companies, our orders and income are dropping. Thanks to the face shields, we can keep our employees working and pay their wages in the coming weeks. We are also awaiting certification of the model (NGS2020) from the National Resources Consortium. As soon as we have a CE mark, we can produce the face shields for other hospitals. And for Home Care; that sector has approached us too. Their healthcare staff are also in close contact with people and in great need of protection.’

You’ve also recently started offering face shields for shop counters?

‘The owner of my local organic shop was uncomfortable with so many people at the counter. So, I quickly made a face shield for her. A little later I saw that bol.com offers face shields for a lot of money. I disagree with proliferation, so now we offer them on our website at an affordable price.’

Have you discovered a new market through Corona?

‘We have mainly discovered that what we do now fits very well with our mission: to deliver large productions locally, quickly and inexpensively. Before Corona, these kinds of orders went to China. Now we can show that we can do this very well in the Netherlands ourselves.’

Snijlab offers the design for the face shield open-source on the website. This also allows other parties to produce the face shield. There are currently enough volunteers for the assembly. You can register via Vrijwilligers@snijlab.nl.

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