This article has been updated to include the most recent numbers for the “Noble Army” provided by Rob Parks.
During the incipient stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oak Park resident Rob Parks didn’t want to sit around as health care workers and first responders called for help. After finding a design online for face shields that could be produced with a 3D printer, Parks went to work.
After hours of logistical work, Parks was able to deploy what he calls a “Noble Army” of 45 locals who have 3D printers and have been producing shields every day. According to Parks, the group has provided over 7,200 face shields to nursing homes, first responders in Evanston and River Forest, various service organizations in Cook County, and over 20 hospitals.
With 200 order requests coming in per day, Parks is hoping to expand the team to other areas and has created a website called faceshieldfactory.org.
“I am so proud of this group and its determination,” said Parks. “We are running it like a business and we want to keep this operation going. The public has come through so beautifully where we are now in the black again.”
Since we reported on Parks and the Noble Army’s efforts on March 29, expenses have increased and the demand for the plastic sheets that attach to the frames the 3D printer produce have gone up dramatically.
However, the team has navigated around those concerns. Parks found an online supplier, explained what the Noble Army was doing and landed 19,000 plastic sheets (16,000 of which are currently piled on top of each other in his living room). Andrew Ziec, one of the group’s members, also modified the design of the masks so that it didn’t need elastic, eliminating one expense.
Parks lauded the selflessness his team showed in regard to picking up some of the expenses, which so far have totaled to $5,150.
“I’ve repeatedly asked them if they wanted reimbursement on the PLA [spool plastic material for 3D printers] and they have turned down my requests for invoices,” said Parks. “it’s just an amazing experience working with these wonderful people.”
With the operation on the rise, Parks hopes the new website will help spread the word on this cause. Initially, he used an email chain to let people know that he was looking for those with 3D printers to contribute but, with the new website, people can now register to join the team.
“At first, a friend forwarded me an email from Rob saying he was looking for help,” said Ahren Sievers, who works at the Elmwood Park Public Library and has used its 3D printer to make face shields. “It was about as grassroots as you can get. Also, since the printer belongs to the library, I am trying to spread the word and sending out updates to the community saying, ‘we are able to do this on your behalf because of you and we wouldn’t have had this opportunity if you didn’t help us get it.’ It’s awesome because it’s something they can get behind and root for.”
Another tab on the website includes a guide to creating a team of 3D printers in other areas that Noble Army doesn’t reach. On the website, there is a link to a 37-page Google document that includes how people can create face shields, organize a team, find a list of organizations that would be interested in this product and other tips for creating this design.
“I didn’t know Rob before I started doing this but he is such an impressive guy,” said Dave Kleinhans, who is a teacher and science department co-chair at Fenwick High School. “Someone told me about what he was doing and I ended up bringing home a few printers from Fenwick and put them in my basement. It’s like Tony Stark’s set up. So, I am able to print these frames with five printers and we are steadily keeping this whole thing going.”