DLA Research & Development supporting COVID-19 response with face shields, advanced manufacturing 

By Sara Moore, DLA Information Operations

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The Defense Logistics Agency will deliver 11,000 face shields to New York City medical workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response by coupling a novel acquisition approach and one of DLA’s Research & Development projects using advanced manufacturing technology.

DLA Information Operations is procuring the face shields under a rapid prototype project for advanced, distributed manufacturing. The prototype leverages a network of affiliated machine shops that have access to processes like Computer Numerical Controlled machining, laser cutting, sheet metal work and 3D printing. Orders go to shops with excess capacity to produce, so DLA sees fast turnaround times and reduced prices. 

The face shields are laser-cut and flat-packed, making them easy to produce and ship. They can be assembled in 40-70 seconds and fit with or without other personal protective equipment. 

“When DLA [Logistics Operations] approached us with the urgent need for face shields, we knew we could make them under this new effort,” said Joe Fagan, a planning analyst with the DLA Technology Accelerator Team. “We received pricing on various designs — injection molded, 3D-printed. In working with one of our awardees, however, we found that laser cutting was orders of magnitude cheaper, could be produced more quickly and provided the same basic functionality.”

The DLA Technology Accelerator Team, part of DLA Information Operations Research & Development, used a method called Other Transaction Authority to create this flexible procurement vehicle. The team manages the agency’s OTA Joint Program Office with DLA Acquisition. The effort — six months in the making — was primarily designed to reduce cost and lead times on standard repair parts and components. The effort was also designed to bolster surge capacity in times of crisis and the face shields serve as an instructive proof-of-concept, demonstrating prototype to contract award and delivery in less than two weeks.

On the heels of the face shield success, the team issued an OTA specifically for COVID-19 support. This new effort seeks to magnify Defense Department capacity on N95 masks with two efforts: hydrogen peroxide vapor sterilization of N95 respirators for reuse, and development of a prototype N95-equivalent mask. 

In addition to procuring the laser-cut face shields, the DLA R&D Additive Manufacturing Program is loading FDA-approved face shield models into the Joint Additive Manufacturing Data Exchange. 

“DLA is expanding JAMMEX, a DLA-managed portal originally designed as a DOD interoperable capability to exchange AM tech data, in support of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said Tony Delgado, DLA AM R&D program manager. 

In collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the military services, JAMMEX consolidates advanced manufacturing approved technical data from across the DOD enterprise. The face shield models will allow the military services and other DOD organizations to produce their own face shields through 3D printing, laser-cutting or other advanced manufacturing techniques, addressing the critical shortage of personal protective equipment nationwide. 

As part of its work with the Joint Acquisition Task Force, DLA R&D is collaborating with DLA Information Operations, DLA Logistics Operations and DOD’s Joint Additive Manufacturing Working Group to provide a technical data library for Federal Emergency Management Agency requests with cooperation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This data library will help align government support to state and local needs by providing technical data packages that can be used by military services or other government organizations providing pandemic response. 

Another effort that DLA R&D has started is a disinfection system for ventilator systems and PPE between patients. The system will use a pulsed plasma treatment that can disinfect in five minutes. 

As the pandemic response continues, DLA R&D will continue to develop ways to support responders with innovative solutions and advanced technology, said David Koch, chief of DLA R&D.

“DLA R&D wants to provide agile responses for the warfighter with our whole-of-government partners to support state and local first responders,” Koch said.