SOUTHINGTON — Nikolas Thomson is just a few weeks into his latest project: making 3-D printed face shields and other protective equipment for health care workers and first responders.
Thomson and his friends, fellow Southington residents Evan D'Agostino and Drew Steindl, have set up shop in the building previously occupied by Hop Knot on Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike in Plantsville. They’ve utilized the bar counters and tabletops to set up a makeshift manufacturing plant that includes about a dozen 3-D printers and space to assemble the shields.
The 24-year-old town native said he came up with the idea to 3-D print face shields after learning hospitals and other health care facilities faced shortages. Thomson, who holds a degree in industrial design from Syracuse University, is no stranger to 3-D printing.
“I thought I could do this at home,” he said. So Thomson found design plans for face shields online and began printing them at home. In that first batch, he made an estimated 50 shields.
The group has since made about 1,000 face shields and frames and have experimented with different types of materials — from one-time disposable equipment to more durable multi-use gear. That equipment has been sanitized and distributed, at no charge, to various facilities — including Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford and St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, nursing homes and various ambulance companies throughout the area and beyond — delivering them as far as Danbury and the shoreline.
Thomson said he wanted to assist the health care workers, whom he referred to as “medical heroes,” in the battle to treat COVID-19 patients and prevent the disease’s spread.
Thomson said he spoke with one medical supervisor after a recent delivery.
“She was so grateful. It made me feel good to know I’m helping out the medical heroes,” Thomson said.
The group was able to bolster their printing capacity by purchasing 10 additional 3-D printers. Thompson was able to buy the printers using a grant from Southington Community Cultural Arts and the Southington Arts and Crafts Association. Typically that money funds scholarships for high school students seeking an art education.
The plastic sheets and printing materials have come from other donations.
SoCCA Executive Director Mary DeCroce explained that because schools had closed the organization didn’t receive any scholarship applications this year. SoCCA leaders learned of Thomson’s efforts and gave him the funds.
That wouldn’t be the only effort SoCCA would support.
Last month, after SoCCA had to close its physical doors, leaders gave away an estimated 100 bags of chalk for children and other residents to use. The bags were left on SoCCA’s front steps and gone within hours, DeCroce said.
SoCCA’s exhibits and classes are taking place online, instead of in person. SoCCA staff have filmed instructional videos from their own home studios. SoCCA also issued a call for an exhibit organizers called “Me and my BFF.” The BFF in this instance stands for Best Furry Friends and the call was for people to submit photos with their pets. The organization received more than 50 responses — photos that included dogs, cats and at least one beta fish.
SoCCA’s long-standing All-Access art programming for individuals with disabilities is also ongoing, even though instructors are temporarily unable to work with their clients in person.
With support from the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, SoCCA was able to give away bags of art supplies to at least 40 of its All-Access students.
“We have done everything we can to stay connected,” DeCroce said. “We want everyone to know we’re still there for them.”