Some of the innovations the automotive industry has brought to the creation of personal protective equipment for front-line health care workers are so impressive they are likely to live on after the pandemic fades.
Freudenberg Sealing Technologies — a company best known for the seals it makes to keep fluids in engines, transmissions, axles and brake systems — is using its manufacturing prowess to produce items that are reducing the physical toll on health care workers of wearing the safety equipment many hours per day.
At the company's Troy, Ohio, plant, engineers Eric Hunt, Kevin Belisle and Marcus Lewis came up with a urethane ear guard that helps hold a face mask in place without causing discomfort where the straps fit behind the ears.
The urethane material used to make the ear guards comes from waste material. The team developed a special tool that produces the ear guards in large quantities using injection molding. The tool was made at the plant, and to further reduce costs and boost efficiency, Hunt, Belisle and Lewis reprogrammed a piece of product line equipment.
Says Belisle: "We decided to take it one step further and use one of Troy's collaborative robots to help produce the parts. The Universal Robots UR5 improves our overall process efficiency. Not only does it produce repeatable cycle times — under a minute per part — which is important with high-temperature plastics, but it allowed us to produce parts with minimal labor." The entire project, from design to production, took just five days.
At the Cleveland, Ga., plant, Jason Hester, a business unit leader, corralled a team of co-workers — ranging from maintenance staffers to senior leaders — to produce 3D-printed plastic ear guards around the clock. The plant is making hundreds of guards a week for local medical professionals and Freudenberg employees.