Filling the Gap: Unique Charlestown Fabricator Transitions Fast to Making Face Shields

Just 10 days ago, Chad Bennett and his theatrical manufacturing company toiled in relative obscurity over by the train tracks on the Charlestown line, but by now they might be the most skilled maker of face shields for health care workers in the entire city.

Earlier this month, Bennett said he was looking at a few models regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, one from England that said with no intervention nearly 2 million American could die, and another model that focused on the dangers to health care workers – which was significant.

The Charlestown Faceshield Project quickly emerged in a small workshop by the train tracks on the Charlestown line. Chad Bennett’s company Dark Monk usually makes theatrical fire equipment, but quickly
switched to making face shields late last week.
Last Sunday, they produced 501 to be donated directly to local hospitals for those on the
front lines.

“I said, ‘Wait, hold on,’” he said in an interview on Monday while taking a break from building shields. “I knew it was going to be bad, but I hadn’t realized it could have been that bad. I immediately told everyone we had to do something and we shut down the shop immediately.”

Those models stopped Bennett in his tracks, and twelve days ago his company, Dark Monk, and a host of volunteers started the Charlestown Faceshield Project. Seven days ago they began production of their approved face shields, and on Sunday they made 501 in a single day.

“We started production four days ago and rolled out the concept nine days ago,” he also said on Monday. “Having gone from having no idea how to produce a face shield at all to producing 501 in one day on Sunday with volunteers is hard to fathom. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. It was huge. As soon as we put calls out to the manufacturing community, people helped us. We found parts and supplies all around from our contacts. It was an absolute village effort.”

So far, they have been donating the face shields to Cape Cod Hospital and Cambridge Health Alliance and others. Right now, Beth Israel and Brigham and Women’s are looking at the product with a mind to approve its use as well – further driving up demand for something they hadn’t made one week ago.

Bennett said the idea is to create enough of them to fill the gap for the next week or two until the major manufacturers begin to ship their standard face shields.

“If you’re the kind of person that understands manufacturing and product design, it’s not a big step to chart this course,” he said. “We’re asking doctors to be product designers and they can’t be. A study for a doctor takes years…You get a little person like me who has an idea and I can push out a prototype in two days and be on the market quick. They need these now and we can’t wait for the big guys to start delivering in three weeks. We have to fill this gap right now to protect those health care workers on the front lines. It is all about helping those on the front lines.”

He said the goal of his project was simply to make 100 face shields, but that has now ballooned to thousands.

“The goal of 100 went to 500 and then 2,000 and now 3,000,” he said. “If I could meet the needs of all the hospitals that want them, it would be 15,000. The problem is raw materials. I have just placed the largest order for rivets and washers that I’ve ever placed or will ever place. It’s an order of $3,000 to $4,000 worth of rivets and washers. Incredible.”

Normally, Bennett’s company makes theatrical and performance materials, particularly for people who work with fire. It’s a small niche market, but they are the largest company in America that makes such things.

“If someone is working with something that’s on fire, chances are we built it,” he said.

It’s a far cry from making face shields, but Bennett said from his Sherman Street workshop that it’s about ingenuity and rolling with the times. As someone that’s handy and a tinkerer and manufacturer, anything can be done quickly.

The effort has a GoFundMe page that is for ordering supplies so more shields can be made in the next two weeks. It is listed under Charlestown Faceshield Project. All donations, he said, will go straight to raw materials as those making them are volunteers.

He gave a special thank you to VDA scenic design company and also the IATSE Local 11 theatrical union.

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