Abacus donates shields to Veterans' Home

Kim Denny-Telford, LNA, the supply clerk at the Vermont Veterans' Home, wears one of the masks produced by Abacus Automation of Bennington.

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BENNINGTON — Abacus Automation has donated more than two dozen face shields made with the company's 3D printer to the Vermont Veterans' Home amid a widespread shortage of personal protective equipment.

Mike Lynch, an engineer with the company, which builds customized automation equipment for manufacturers, modified a design found on the internet to make frames that attach to plastic sheets that can be purchased at office supply stores.

Lynch is mostly working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, but twice per day he visits Abacus' headquarters at 264 Shields Drive to remove and trim completed frames and start the next one, which takes about five hours to print.

Lynch said this effort, carried out in addition to his normal duties, was worth it, "especially for the vets." He is continuing to print additional shields for the veterans' home, which is located at 325 North St.

There are no current cases of coronavirus among residents or staff at the veterans' home, said Al Faxon, the entity's chief operating officer and deputy administrator, but the shields will be worn by staff over their masks when interacting with residents suffering from certain respiratory ailments, including the flu.

Faxon said the home is grateful for the donated shields, which offer a comfortable distance between the clear plastic barrier and the

wearer's face.

The home instituted a no-visitor policy on March 13 in response to the outbreak. One employee tested positive for COVID-19 on March 15 and returned to work after a 14-day self-quarantine.

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Dixie Zens, vice president at Abacus, said the pandemic has limited the company's operations. The firm is providing quotes for "repeat-type equipment," he said, but it typically needs to enter customers' factories to observe their processes "to make sure what we design and build will solve their problems," which isn't currently permissible.

The company has furloughed a portion of its 37-member workforce, but it has been "fortunate" to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan, Zens said. Employees are mostly working remotely as the company awaits the delivery of certain machine parts.

"Our folks are hard to find — so we want to keep them," Zens said, adding that he is anxious to get everyone back to work.

Abacus' 3D printing efforts are not the only recent example of personal protective equipment production involving local entities. Vermont State Trooper Robert Zink has used a 3D printer to make shields for the Bennington Health and Rehabilitation Center and other institutions, and a Mack Molding subsidiary adapted full-face snorkeling masks to function as respirators for Southwestern Vermont Health Care staff members.

JK Adams, a Dorset-based manufacturer of wooden housewares, has also begun making face shields.

Contact Luke Nathan

at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.