Max Planck Florida Machine Shop Shifts from Manufacturing Microscope Parts to Face Shields

More than 170 masks given to Palm Beach County first responders

April 21, 2020

You’d normally find Markus Klement manufacturing highly technical custom parts for top scientific organizations across the globe, but his latest project is making an important impact right here in Palm Beach County. He is working to get critical protective equipment to those fighting the coronavirus. Klement, a master mechanical engineer, and machinist, manages the Mechanical Workshop at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI). He wanted to help with the ongoing coronavirus crisis so he put the machine shop’s state-of-the-art equipment to work manufacturing face shields for first responders. As a result, MPFI was able to donate more than 170 shields to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

“Seeing what is happening in our community as coronavirus cases keep growing feels overwhelming, but it feels good that MPFI is doing something for the community, especially first responders, since they are working very hard and put their lives at risk,” Klement said.

Helping him in this endeavor was recent Dwyer High School graduate Samuel Haury Parra who worked to assemble the finished parts of the shields and prepare them for distribution.

“In the machine shop, we are always looking for ways to make things better, but with the coronavirus, there isn’t much we can do to solve that situation. Finding a way to use our skills to help first responders was a really great experience and it felt good to be able to do something to make a difference,” Haury Parra said.

Klement says the most difficult part of the process was sourcing the materials needed to make the shields since there is a shortage of the raw materials needed, such as elastic latex fabric for the headband and adhesive-backed polyurethane foam for the cushion.

Fellow MPFI mechanical engineer Nicole Holstrom spent hours sourcing the materials to make the masks. Holstrom said, “Everyone in the machine shop is eager to help the cause and will make more shields as more materials become available.”

The MPFI Mechanical Workshop is known globally for its excellence in designing and building highly specialized, commercially unavailable equipment and also customizing existing tools that allow MPFI scientists to develop non-conventional and unique microscopes and imaging technology that isn’t available anywhere else. Because of the unique expertise of its machinists, it frequently provides services to research organizations throughout the United States and internationally.

“Part of being at Max Planck is that we are used to tackling these out-of-the-box questions and finding new approaches to solving problems, and this even goes beyond our science,” Klement said. “We want to do everything we can for the people in our community, and try to come up with ways to benefit as many people as we can.”