PLEASANT GROVE, Utah -- During normal times, production operations at cabinet shop Wood By Design would be concentrated on high-end custom furniture and customized cabinetry.

Since 1991, Utah company has worked with interior designers to produce prestige casework, including kitchens, libraries, bars and entertainment system housings for clients throughout the state.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, essential protective medical equipment is in short supply, impacting the health and safety of many of the thousands of frontline medical caregivers treating patients with the coronavirus.

So when, towards the end of March, Jim Malone, Wood By Design’s owner, was contacted to see if his company could support in the collective fight against COVID-19, he didn’t hesitate.

“I received a call from healthcare provider, Intermountain Healthcare (IHC), as a woodworking supply company used by each of us had donated CNC bits to help them produce the plastic shields for the lightweight functional face masks,” said Malone. “That company, Timberline, recommended us as potentially being able to support IHC’s overall production effort.

“I had IHC send over the file in AutoCAD, which I cleaned and put into SAi EnRoute and within no time at all, using a sample piece of plastic they had provided, I was able to produce one of the plastic shields,” he continues. “Being only a short distance away, I drove to IHC to show them a finished example. That was all within about 90 minutes of receiving the original file.”

With the outputted piece approved on the spot, the team of six at Wood By Design put a temporary halt on customer orders and turned its attention to a bigger cause.

As a result, around the end of March, the company’s Weeke Vantage CNC router has no longer been tasked with creating custom wood furniture, but instead is being fed clear ultra-thin Tuffak polycarbonate plastic sheets that are 8 x 4 feet in size and 0.030-inch thickness.

Within the first week and half of being called to arms, Wood By Design managed to cut plastic for about 5,500 face shields. Malone expects to be have produced more than 20,000 by the end of April.

“We’re currently receiving around 50-60 plastic sheets every day, which are supplied directly by IHC,” said Malone. “As the G-coding within EnRoute works so efficiently with my router, telling it which tool to grab, we can work very quickly. That has helped us to the point that we’re able to produce around 1,400 clear plastic shields daily.”

Throughout the day, teams of volunteers collect the face guards from Wood By Design’s facility so that another team can undertake the final assembly, essentially the addition of a foam forehead cushion and elastic strap to ensure the face shield can provide a comfortable and practical fit for medical care givers. From there, they are donated for use at VA centers and cancer centers across Utah, where they are typically worn with the familiar white N95 surgical mask. However, Malone expects the face shields to be used nationwide, and perhaps even further afield in due course.

“The collaborative effort to meet production shortfalls in face shields seems to be gathering momentum all the time, with all sorts of companies getting involved and coming together to help out”, said Malone. “What’s also good is that although orders for our usual projects have naturally been delayed, customers have been completely understanding and appreciate that we’re obviously getting to them a little slower than expected.”

Despite being firmly focused on the vital task at hand to combat COVID-19, Malone is nonetheless keeping one eye on the future direction of his business so that he’s able to meet the needs of his regular customer base once things properly return to normal.

“We are getting a lot of call for 3D panel systems as we also do a lot of reception desks through our commercial customers,” he said. “I would like to take things up a gear or two and upgrade EnRoute so I can create 3D panels and then vacuum press leather onto those panels. The software is good for allowing users to push their creativity boundaries and do more artistic stuff.”

For now, as it has been for several weeks, Wood By Design will continue to answer the nation’s call and run its operation around the clock.

“We’re currently waiting for a train to arrive in Salt Lake City with another supply of plastic sheets,” said Malone. “From there, they’ll be put on a truck and driven out to us, so we’ll likely be cutting those until the small hours, before rising early to make use of a new day and do it all again. And that’s what we’ll do while we’re needed in the help to fight and win this battle.”

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