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Global coronavirus PPE effort has strong Calgary flavour

Calgary’s Fuse 33 Makerspace sees your pandemic, and raises you a revolution.

Fuse 33 owner Shannon Hoover has joined forces with a booming online collective to tackle the mask shortage due to COVID-19.

“I feel like I’m watching something that will change the world, one way or another,” said Hoover.

Since its inception in early March, the Facebook group Open Source COVID 19 Medical Supplies has been gaining traction in their quest to find innovative solutions to supply shortages in relation to COVID-19.

“This is a place to share ideas for how to work together, to find collaborators, and to share inspiring stories about response efforts to the global COVID 19 pandemic,” according to the group’s online bio.

Hoover began moderating OSCMS shortly after it was formed, and has since watched it grow from 150 members to over 60,000 around the world.

“There’s around 50 moderators right now, and about 5,000 posts pending approval. Plus member approvals,” said Hoover.

“It’s completely overwhelming.”

Solutions through cooperation

What started as a casual discussion on alternative ways to source face masks, quickly turned into a real-life solution.

“People kept talking about 3D printing the masks, but one mask can take like, two hours to print,” Hoover said.

“So, I said 3D printing isn’t the way to go, laser cutting is the way to go.”

Laser cut visor components made in Costa’s shop. – Photo submitted

This led to Hoover collaborating with Rui Costa, the CEO of CMYK Print Design in Valongo, Portugal.

“Within 30 minutes, Rui had posted a design, then I took that design and modified it, had my team in Calgary work on it, and it’s already landed in the hands of doctors for testing,” said Hoover.

Even with the online divide, it was teamwork.

“We were in sync, even though we were miles apart,” said Costa, in an interview via Facebook Messenger.

In the span of three weeks, Hoover and Costa were able to optimize the design, which would then be shared back with the community who helped create it.

“We were able to make fast changes to our design because of rapid collaboration between local makers and international makers,” said Hoover.

 “It started global, then it became local, and now it’s gone global again,” he said.

Change comes at a cost

Hoover and Costa have donated more than 4,000 masks and visors to frontline workers, and Costa has invested almost $10,000 out of his own pocket.

A collection of PPE manufactured and packaged by Costa’s company, ready to be shipped out. – Photo submitted

While Costa finds the work rewarding, he’s looking forward to getting back to his regular routine.

“Because of the close contact with doctors, I haven’t been with my son for two weeks,” said Costa.

“The masks are what keep me going.”

Keeping the momentum

Hoover credits the timeliness of their process to the group’s open source philosophy, which ensures all members can freely access the design – and hopefully build on it.

“Anyone can do this. If a competitor came along and improved on our design, I could potentially turn around and improve on the competitor’s design, and so on. And you know who wins? The consumer,” said Hoover.

“If we were to put a license on it, it would only be to ensure that nobody else could use it and not share it.”

Since starting the project, Hoover has become a certified manufacturer of hand sanitizer, and is in the process of being certified to make medical PPE.

While he understands the need for regulations, he believes the distribution systems are more exclusive than they need to be.

“How do we reduce those barriers that only exist to allow the large players to control the markets?” said Hoover.

Hoover hopes the same call to action can be applied to future problem-solving. Not just as a response to a crisis.

“There are several pandemics happening to the human race at any given time. We have a lot of much bigger problems we’re facing. So, how do we apply this same sense of urgency to those?” he said.

Despite the obstacles, Hoover said the COVID-19 pandemic has served as an interesting social experiment, with surprisingly positive results.

“It’s acted as an equalizer. It’s highlighted a part of humanity I don’t think we realized we had. You realize now that people aren’t that bad,” he said.