Img 2945CHALMETTE, La – Just before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way of life around the world, Nunez Community College was positioned to cut the ribbon on the Nunez SkillShop located at its campus in the suburbs of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. The collaborative makerspace was days away from opening its doors to the community for learning, sharing and exploring. In the blink of an eye, the SkillShop took on a whole new mission, production of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Within days, the Ochsner Health System reached out to Scale Workspace in New Orleans to collaborate efforts of local centers of advanced manufacturing. Goodwood, another area company, started to run with this objective and coordinated several area makers including Neutral Ground and OPA Graphics, among others, to start meeting Ochsner’s PPE demands. Nunez became involved through Neutral Ground which is owned by the Nunez SkillShop Coordinator, Vincent Vumbaco.

The Nunez SkillShop has produced just under 700 pieces of PPE for the Ochsner Health System. The PPE has consisted of a computer numerically controlled (CNC) milled transparent PETG face shield that can be secured to a laser-cut acrylic frame. When combined, these two pieces form a hospital safe face shield. These shields are worn by hospital workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to their normal PPE to better protect them from airborne virus-containing droplets. Nunez was part of a rapid prototyping and manufacturing effort to mitigate the enormous demand for this PPE locally.

Nunez has been successful in supplying the needed parts as the demand for PPE has leveled off with the advent of even larger scale manufacturing with die-cutting and injection molding of parts at other manufacturing institutions. This kind of technological flexibility and collaboration with our local manufacturing partners and hospitals is essential to the literal health of our community and the Nunez SkillShop was proud to support the endeavor. Nunez is also in conversations about potentially supplying the design and manufacturing of emergency ventilators and ventilator parts.

Since the start of this project, LM Wind Power and Advanced Cutting Systems have been added to Nunez’s roster of participating partners. These are companies housed at NASA’s Michoud Assembly facility and will be dramatically scaling up the production of Lexan Face Shields from about 1,000 per week to somewhere between 12,000 and 24,000 a week and hopefully up to 50,000 in the coming weeks at that one facility.

Nunez’s Chancellor, Dr. Tina Tinney, expressed her gratitude, “Nunez has valued Vinnie Vumbaco and David Vumbaco’s proactive response when approached about pivoting the SkillShop to combat the crisis and support our health care workers, many of which are Nunez graduates. I was humbled to be able to support and share their efforts so that the impact was spread across our state and through the Louisiana Community College system.”

While the vision of the Nunez SkillShop may have temporarily taken on a new direction, its purpose of providing a space that benefits the community has clearly been met and exceeded. The SkillShop team looks forward to continued worthwhile projects being imagined and realized in the makerspace.