Columbia Engineers Team Up with Clinicians at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian

Engineers design, prototype, scale up, and manufacture thousands of face shields for health care workers in just a week; 1,500,000+ more shields already ordered by NewYork-Presbyterian and others for delivery starting this week

Apr 03 2020 | By Holly Evarts

New York, NY—April 3, 2020—Columbia Engineering researchers have joined forces with the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) to work to meet the urgent needs of the NYC hospital systems. Teams of Columbia Engineering faculty, technical staff, and students have been collaborating 24/7 over Zoom and Slack to create designs for face shields that can be manufactured at scale, by the tens to hundreds of thousands per day.

While they have been able to produce thousands of these shields in the Engineering School’s Makerspace using water jet cutting, it has become clear—after numerous discussions with clinicians—that NewYork-Presbyterian and other hospitals in NYC and across the country need many more: 50,000+ per day, per hospital. So the engineers, in collaboration with CUIMC and NewYork-Presbyterian, have developed designs that can be die cut for less than $1 per shield, made in seconds, and are easy to assemble on the spot.  

After receiving initial feedback from NewYork-Presbyterian medical staff and making adjustments, the researchers gained approval to put one of the designs into testing at the Hospital. The one-piece face shields are being made by a contract manufacturer in Connecticut that can meet the demand, and 10,000 were delivered to NewYork-Presbyterian late last week for testing. The tests went well and NewYork-Presbyterian has scaled up the production for deliveries of 50,000 per day starting this week.

At the same time, two additional designs—another from Engineering researchers and a third from collaborators at Engineering and the Zuckerman Institute—have also been ordered for use at other regional and national hospitals. The Columbia designs will soon be used in Europe, as well as countries in Asia and North Africa. The designs are also downloadable for others to use for free.

Columbia FaceShieldOne Instructional Video

“We have been in close contact with our colleagues on the medical campus and hospital regarding emerging urgent needs—it has been remarkable to see our engineers step up to rapidly design and prototype a face shield that can be easily mass produced and meets this important PPE need. Universities and hospitals are working collaboratively behind the scenes on a number of critical issues to address this dynamic situation which impacts us all,” says Columbia Engineering Dean Mary C. Boyce. “If, back in early March, anyone had suggested that we would be designing and mass producing a product in just a week—or even at all—we would have said a clear ‘no.’ But desperate times call for extraordinary measures.”

Columbia Engineering researchers are also working on rapid response solutions for other urgent problems faced by hospital workers, including ventilators, HEPA filters, sample collection swabs, sterilization, PPEs, and more. To help health professionals connect and collaborate with innovators to rapidly solve emerging problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, the School has established the Columbia COVID Tech Innovation Group. The website includes an interest form for anyone looking to help, suggest a project, or remain informed.

In addition, Dean Boyce has just announced a design challenge open to students, faculty, and staff from all Columbia schools. Launched on April 2, the Columbia Engineering Design Challenge: DIY Ventilators for COVID-19 is focused on designs for non-invasive ventilators that can help care for critical patients suffering from pulmonary diseases such as that induced by COVID-19. Selected teams will receive funding to build their designs and the challenge winners, who will be announced April 27, will receive additional funds.

A second challenge—the Virtual Campus Design Challenge—has been developed as a hackathon for all Columbia and Barnard students to address the challenges of remote living as a campus community. The challenge, which will run over the weekend of April 4-6, aims to bring students together virtually to design and build virtual solutions to all aspects of campus life.

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Columbia Engineering
Columbia Engineering, based in New York City, is one of the top engineering schools in the U.S. and one of the oldest in the nation. Also known as The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School expands knowledge and advances technology through the pioneering research of its more than 220 faculty, while educating undergraduate and graduate students in a collaborative environment to become leaders informed by a firm foundation in engineering. The School’s faculty are at the center of the University’s cross-disciplinary research, contributing to the Data Science Institute, Earth Institute, Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Precision Medicine Initiative, and the Columbia Nano Initiative. Guided by its strategic vision, “Columbia Engineering for Humanity,” the School aims to translate ideas into innovations that foster a sustainable, healthy, secure, connected, and creative humanity.