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Pflugerville companies turn to 3D printing to make needed protective equipment

Pflugerville Signs and Essentium Materials turned on their 3D printers to manufacture parts for masks and face shields during the coronavirus pandemic.

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — In September, Moe Hallak bought a 3D printer that can manufacture signs in any shape and size he needed -- up to about six feet tall. Last week, that printer finally came online and is now ready to crank out 2,200 to 2,500 face shield parts a day.

“We do a lot during SXSW. Of course, this year was a disaster," Hallak said.

He planned to use this new printer extensively because of the event-planning business that supports his own company.

“We’re not a billion-dollar company," Hallak said. "We are a family-owned-and-operated business.”

To that point, his own family was in the shop Sunday putting together face shields for first responders. It's the first product that his printer has helped create.

“The last things we want is to have a lack of protective gear for our community and the people who actually make this city run," Hallak said.

Hallak has already committed 100 face shields to the Pflugerville Police Department.

Just a few miles away, Essentium Materials revved up four 3D printers each about the size of a large oven. Essentium is producing mask kits. Each kit has a printed plastic frame and comes with 30 filters and some elastic string to tie it all together. Each filter lasts a day.

CEO Blake Teipel said each mask has the equivalent protection of a surgical mask. He expects in the next few weeks the company will go from a handful of printers to 35 making the kits.

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“We have more than 9000, maybe more than that today, actually, orders for the mask," Teipel said. "The orders for the masks are coming in from police departments, from city governments. We’re getting some from healthcare providers as well.”

Essentium has already delivered some of the masks to Pflugerville police. Before this, the company 3D printed parts for the auto industry. But, according to Teipel, the masks have become a priority.

“Manufacturing companies like Essentium have to make as many masks as we can and unfortunately we’re still going to be short," Teipel said. "That’s just the nature of the need.”

Essentium is also a relatively small manufacturing company, employing about 60 people, according to Teipel. It's these companies that can make a big difference now.

“It’s going to take an all-of-the-above solution," Teipel said. "We’re going to have to buy as many masks as we can. We’re going to have to have the big boys ramp as fast as they can and small and medium businesses will have to play a role.”

Teipel gave 3M as an example of one of the "big boys" that have changed their production lines to PPE, or personal protective equipment. 

Both Teipel and Hallak emphasized their businesses are focused on helping people right now.

“When Texas sees a need, Texas responds,” Teipel said.

“Our first issue right now is to make sure our community is safe," Hallak said.

If you would like to order a mask kit from Essentium, head to their website. If you would like to donate or order a face shield from Pflugerville Signs, head to the company's website.

Both companies warned arrival dates for any orders may be delayed due to the high demand for each product.

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