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Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Steve Brown designs, manufactures face shields for hospitals

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UNION GROVE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- When the pandemic first started, it quickly became clear that hospitals were having a difficult time getting enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, for doctors, nurses and other staff. An engineer in Union Grove saw the need, and it inspired him to take action. He not only designed PPE, he also got it manufactured.

“We melt the pellets,” said Steve Brown, explaining a machine at Plastic Parts, Inc. “At the top, you can see them going down.”

Brown is a problem solver. As an engineer, it’s just in his nature. So when he saw doctors and nurses struggling to find PPE, his mind started working.

“I was always taught that if you were to sit on your hands when you know that there's a need, that's just wrong,” Brown said.

So he didn’t sit on his hands. Instead, Brown sat down at his computer.

“So you would start with a three-dimensional format, something like this,” he said, showing a design for a face shield on his computer.

He knew a lot of people were using 3-D printers to make face shields for hospitals.

“And I saw people all around the world, stepping to the front, making 3-D printed visors and equipment for them, and I said, I can use the talents that I'm blessed with to meet those needs,” he said.

As an engineer at Plastic Parts, Inc. in Union Grove, he also knew he could do it faster.

“Oh, probably 150 times faster,” he estimated. “We make one in under a minute.”

Within two weeks, he designed and created a mold for face shields.

“Melt the plastic, inject the plastic, cool the plastic, and eject the plastic,” he said of the process.

And with that, the custom injection molding operation with up and running. Plastic Parts Vice President, Jill Osiecki, immediately said yes to the project.

“He's got a real heart for humanity and he's just got a good heart,” Osiecki said of Brown. “And so when Steve asks me, can I do something? I know it's been well thought through.”

It’s what her family has been doing for more than 50 years.

“My father used to say, we have to be a country that can make things. You know, we have to be able to make things,” she said. “I think that this showed, this Covid crisis showed, how important manufacturing is to all of us.”

The face shields come packed in a box of 75, with the plastic visors ready to be attached. So far, Plastic Parts has manufactured 4,000 of them.

“We were trying to meet a specific need, something that was quick, cost effective and could get to our people in a hurry,” Brown said of the concept.

The design is simple. So once Brown conquered that, he kept coming up with solutions to PPE problems.

“The elastics hook in the back,” he said, demonstrating how to attach elastic to one of his other creations.

Brown also designed what he’s calling ear-savers. A product that protects people’s ears from being chaffed by elastic on masks.

But there’s one other piece to this that both Brown and Osiecki are proud of. Plastic Parts is able to use recycled materials to create the new products. It’s all plastic they’ve saved from other jobs.

“We've been keeping it here for just a special use and this turned out to be perfect,” Osiecki said. “We don't want it to be disposable, we want it reusable.”

From design to execution, Brown said it all came together quickly, and for him, naturally.

“To understand that there's something you can do about it, and you can do it today, get busy and go do it,” he said.

For more information on Plastic Parts, Inc., just visit www.plasticsmax.com.

And, if you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, just send Natalie a message at nshepherd@cbs58.com.

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