Chattanooga-based Kenco making product to help in COVID-19 fight

By CMP Management on May 11, 2020 at 01:36 PM in Industry News

With face masks now standard for most health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, Chattanooga-based Kenco is using its 3-D printing expertise to make an item that boosts comfort.

The company's Innovation Labs has so far donated about 1,000 extenders, which attach to the elastic that holds many face masks to the back of the ears. The extenders offer adjustability and help make the mask better fit a person's head, said Trever Ehrlich, the lab's creative solutions manager.

"A lot of medical staff we found have smaller masks in proportion to their faces and the two small elastic loops that catch the ear," he said. "The ears become raw."

Ehrlich said the elastic catches on clips on the extender instead and makes the masks more comfortable, especially if they're worn for long periods.

Kristi Montgomery, vice president of Kenco Innovation Labs, said Ehrlich found an open source blueprint online for the extenders and the 3-D printing began.

"I have family in the emergency medical space who are having to wear masks and it started hurting the ear," she said. "This product is a means to help them relieve pain for their ears."

Montgomery said the extenders also help alleviate wear patterns on the front of the face due to the masks.

While Kenco Group is well known as a logistics company, its Innovation Labs test out robotic systems, augmented reality equipment, automatic loading and other initiatives to improve the speed and accuracy of warehouse loading, shipping and transfers.

Among technologies with which Kenco labs is working is 3-D printing, which can take the fabrication of components from computer design to actual part in hand in a seamless manner known as direct digital manufacturing.

Ehrlich said that he'd initially talked with friends about the idea of printing up face shields and started looking into that concept. STEM School Chattanooga, with which Kenco regularly works, was involved in that endeavor and the initial thought was the two would work together.

But Ehrlich said that didn't work out and someone mentioned the extender idea. Some of the production material was on hand the labs started making the extenders, he said.

Ehrlich said the labs can produce about 100 daily. They're also working with an individual who is 3-D printing extenders as well, he said. Kenco is working with the STEM School on distribution to hospitals.

"It's a contribution to the community by Kenco," Ehrlich said.

Montgomery said the need arose and Kenco has "a long history of philanthropy and community involvement."

"It's a unique and creative way we could do something different," she said.

Kenco likely will keep making the extenders until the end of the month.

"A lot of companies are retooling to mass produce," Ehrlich said. "This is filling in the gap until industry can catch up."

According to Kenco officials, the company is considered "essential" and it's operating as business as usual, though employees are working at home when possible. But the company has seen a slow down among some of its customers, Kenco officials said.