Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Sam Ransdell of Burney True Value Hardware in Seven Lakes, North Carolina, realized that ordering face masks to sell wasn’t going to meet his community’s needs.
Demand was too high nationally for Ransdell to get enough masks through the usual wholesalers and manufacturers.
Local first responders and other medical workers were rewearing disposable surgical and N95 masks to care for COVID-19 patients.
Mike Lomax, owner of a 3D printing company, suggested Ransdell start printing masks for construction workers. Ransdell was on board with the idea, but he and Lomax realized the need was bigger and they could work together to protect people whose lives were at risk.
“Once I understood how one printer could impact a great deal of people, I began to realize how a whole farm of printers could impact a huge group of people,” Ransdell says.
In early March, Ransdell bought three 3D printers to help manufacture durable plastic masks. A 3D printer could make a mask in six hours that could hold a disposable filter cut from vacuum bags and HEPA filters, be molded to a user’s face when heated and be sanitized repeatedly for safe reuse.
Ransdell used social media and the local newspaper to ask people in the community for help. Other local businesses volunteered the use of their 3D printers. With support from other companies and $10,000 in donations, Burney True Value helped provide more than 1,200 masks to fire departments and other local agencies working with COVID-19 patients.
When the need diminished and local groups were able to order masks again, Burney True Value stopped production and donated the 3D printers to a local school system.
“We aren’t just essential because the governor or lawmakers say so. We are essential because we serve our community,” Ransdell says. “We are here or available at nearly all hours to help our customers, especially in times of emergency.”