Con Edison creates a shield between health care heroes and COVID-19

Still from video
Courtesy of Con Edison

Con Edison is drawing on the expertise of its workers in a Bronx machine shop to manufacture 40,000 face shields for Westchester County health-care workers who are treating coronavirus patients.

On April 17, the company turned the first 6,000 plastic shields over to Westchester County Executive George Latimer and plans to make and donate the remaining shields by the end of the month. The county government will distribute the shields to hospitals and nursing homes.

“Our talented team of technicians, managers and engineers dedicate themselves every day to the health and safety of our region,” said Tim Cawley, president of Con Edison. “Strong, supportive collaboration with UWUA Local 1-2 was key to this initiative. We’re grateful that our skilled employees are able to help protect health-care workers, the women and men putting their own health on the line to heal and comfort others during the coronavirus emergency.”

The manufacturing takes place at 701-723 Baker Ave., in a multi-purpose machine shop at Con Edison’s yard in Van Nest.

Workers unfurl 500-pound rolls of thin, plastic sheeting and use a knife to cut the sheeting into eight-foot lengths. They lay 40 of those eight-foot-by-three-foot sheets on a piece of plywood and place another piece of plywood on top for stability.

The stack of sheets and plywood is fed into a machine with a robotic arm that fires a thin, high-pressure spray of water and garnet, which is the abrasive material on sandpaper to cut the plywood and plastic sheets.

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One sheet produces 12 shields and in less than three hours, the process makes 480 shields. Two shifts of workers are making the shields, stamping out 4,000 a day. The shields soak in a solution of water and Windex before being wiped cleaned and packed 600 to a box for shipping.

Each lightweight shield is one piece, with ties that hook behind the wearer’s head to hold the protection in place. The shields are easy to clean, which makes them reusable.

Several weeks ago, Chris Bentley, a section manager in Con Edison’s Central Engineering group and John Constable, a senior engineer, began discussing whether the company could design and make equipment health-care workers need. They found a design for the fabrication of a one-piece face shield that health-care workers wear.

They researched the material Con Edison would need to make the shields and decided they saw a match. A pilot run produced about 100 shields and went smoothly enough to convince the team to begin mass production.

While it’s easy to feel helpless as the coronavirus affects colleagues, family members and friends, the project has lifted the spirits of the workers and planners.

“The folks working on this take great pride in it,” said Nurrani Alli, a construction manager in Central Operations at Con Edison. “The fight against coronavirus requires a collective effort with every one of us contributing. We’re happy to play a role by providing health-care workers with equipment they need to take care of us.”

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