You can tell a lot about a business by how they respond to a crisis.
In early 2020 when the first wave of lock-downs began, Rapidwristbands, like many promotional product businesses, found itself deemed "non-essential". Facing uncertainty but not wanting to sit idly by, we decided to do something about it. We created the 3DPPE brand as a way of shifting our production facilities to the newly-essential work of making personal protective equipment (PPE), and 80% of our workforce was re-assigned to this effort. We had no idea if the business would survive the pandemic, but if we went down we would go down swinging, making the most of the time and resources we had and doing what we could to help flatten the curve.
Helping Our Healthcare Workers and First Responders
Over the course of the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic 3DPPE produced over 100,000 pieces of handmade PPE, with nearly half of that amount donated to schools, healthcare workers, and first responders. At the time these donations were made, most stores and suppliers were completely out of stock. Lead times were months-long and not guaranteed at all, and the few places that did have supplies were charging 5-10 times the standard retail price. And while some companies were even selling at a 1000% mark-up, we sold all of our products at pre-pandemic rates; essentially near-cost.
"You could just see the joy on their face that they were getting face shields, because at the time they didn't have any. They didn't have enough N95s."
That's Dr. Maggie Jeffries, a local anesthesiologist and recipient of 3DPPE donations.
"We were living through, at that time, such a fearful time in the healthcare community that we just didn't know. We didn't know if you'd survive it, we didn't know... how transmissible it was, so people wanted to be in a spacesuit if they could."
When it came to getting supplies in the early days of the pandemic small groups and organizations often had a more difficult time. "If you didn't have a connection or you weren't a big name, it was really hard to get what you needed. So, it was really important to have small companies to help out."
In all, 3DPPE donated an estimated $250,000 worth of PPE supplies, about a $25,000 donation per employee. Compare that to Amazon's $10,000,000 donation; only about $13.33 per each of its 750,000 employees.
3DPPE also partnered with TX/RX Labs, a maker's space that coordinated with local businesses. Together, they worked to rapidly provide hospitals with printed face shields and sneeze guards created in partnership with Skyline Houston. A full third of all printed face shields donated in this project were made by 3DPPE. Several local sheriff's departments and fire & rescues also had a standing partnership with 3DPPE to hand out more than 5000 masks to local communities in the Clear Lake and Pasadena areas. This was coupled with a policy that any first responder could come to the 3DPPE office in uniform and receive a personal mask and face shield for their own use, free of charge. Other recipients of 3DPPE donations included familiar Houston institution Gallery Furniture (itself a frequent supplier of aid to the community in times of need), as well as the Baylor College of Medicine, UTMB Health, Memorial Hermann Hospitals, and Hilton-Americas Houston.
3DPPE started with twelve 3D printers here in Clear Lake printing face shields strictly for donations. This effort grew to include more than 100 local tailors, most recently out of work because of the pandemic, making hand-sewn cloth masks. After thousands of hours of fine-tuning on open-source designs provided as part of a national effort launched by the National Institutes of Health, 3DPPE's printers began running nearly 24/7 to print thousands of face shield visors, flexible N95 respirators, and "Earsavers" for the now-ubiquitous Olson-pattern cloth face masks. It wasn't long before word of mouth began to spread and Houston media began to take notice of the local small business doing what they could not only to protect the community around them in a dire time of need, but also to ensure that its own employees were taken care of in a time of uncertainty. Only a few weeks into the pandemic, 3DPPE was already one of the leading local suppliers of handmade PPE in Houston, Texas.
Giving Back More than Just PPE
3DPPE gave her life back.
With a bit of fabric and a few grams of plastic filament, a nearly-90 year-old woman was able to safely come out of isolation and start to enjoy the things that gave her life purpose again. Sure, interactions are a bit different from behind a mask, but humans are social creatures and that shared connection is integral to our well-being.