'Micro Manufacturing' filling PPE needs

Published Sunday, April 12, 2020
by Eric Walker

Inch by inch and piece by piece, individuals and businesses in Mayfield and Graves County have been working to help those on the front lines of the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

From Dooms Chapel 3D Printing in Symsonia to Greer Neon, WKCTC and Sprocket, Inc. in Paducah to Mayfield and Graves County schools, and Pilgrim’s Pride and numerous sewing ministries to Jackson Purchase Medical Center, local and regional parts have come together to create needed personal protective equipment (PPE) from face shields to hospital gowns.

Graves County Economic Development President Ryan Drane calls it “micro manufacturing,” where small groups work together to create products for immediate needs, such as in an emergency.

“We have so many skilled people in our area and they’re making changes and adjustments on the fly,” Drane said. “It’s really amazing to me how unbelievably talented people are around here. It’s been really great to see.”

Drane has been working to plug different companies together to make parts for items like intubation boxes for patients so mouth or nose fluids from a cough or sneeze won’t disperse or contaminate a health care worker. With schematics from West Kentucky Tech and pieces made by Greer Neon, several boxes have been provided to local hospitals, such as Jackson Purchase Medical Center and Marshall County Hospital.

“It’s a need,” said Greer Neon’s Keith Crouch. “If it works and saves one or two, that’ll be fantastic.”

Drane said he has been working with regional entities to create face shields for medical personnel and first responders, and JPMC with the design and manufacturing of isolation gowns.

Missy Dodson is a speech therapist at Jackson Purchase and heard about the shortage of protective hospital gear in the U.S. She started making hair hats for nurses, and then was approached by her supervisor to sew isolation gowns.

“I don’t know anything about making isolation gowns, but I’m sure there’s a pattern we can find,” she recalled saying. “I’m at home with nothing else to do, so she asked me if I would start sewing. So I’ve been sewing.”

Dodson made a template gown and hospital CEO Dave Anderson, nursing administrator Julia Grove, and infection control nurse Veronica Adams made adjustments and asked Dodson to produce a finished product. That final template was also sent to Bro. Al Chandler with Northside Baptist Church, who coordinated with local sewing ministries to add their skills to the effort.

“It’s not something I typically do, but it’s something I know how to do,” Dodson said of using her learned skills from her grandmother to help.

Drane explained that the small-scale production has also helped specify the needs of hospital workers and first responders who will be using the PPE. He explained ribbed cuffs were added to the gowns to provide better coverage between the gown and glove over the wrist.

“We’re able to get direct feedback from them on exactly what they need,” he said. “It works really well when you have the size of companies we do that have the ability to pivot to meet those needs, but most importantly is to have the heart and commitment in the community to want to do whatever it takes to help people.”

If anyone is interested in helping with a particular product, contact GCED at 270-247-0626.