WYOMISSING, Pa. — Coronavirus infections are continuing to rise dramatically throughout the country and the state of Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Along with the rising number of cases comes an increased demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), and that’s one issue that Penn State alumnus and entrepreneur Joe Sinclair is helping with through his Reading-based, 3D printer–manufacturing business, Verde Mantis.  

Sinclair, the first graduate of the Master of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design (AMD) program offered online through Penn State World Campus, and his brother, Dan, had been monitoring and tracking the spread of COVID-19 in Berks County and Pennsylvania for some time when his company began prototyping and producing PPE in mid-March. Specifically, the company has created a design that is being used to print the component of face shields that holds the translucent shield in place. The 3D printed part, shaped like a semi-circle, is wrapped around the forehead of the user and secured in the rear by a rubber band or piece of elastic. Nearly 150 shields have already been assembled to date.

“We’re working with our partners across Pennsylvania to ramp up production,” said Sinclair, who added that his goal is to see a few hundred face shields produced every week. 

As an early member of the Berks LaunchBox initiative, Sinclair launched Verde Mantis, the first company in the area to be focused on making 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, easy to use. He has been able to invite local students to participate in the design and fabrication process of the company's Mantis 3D printer, and now he is working with community organizations to use that same technology to create face shield components to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Using a template created by Sinclair, virtual reality training company CrossTrainer Mixed Reality, LLC began creating the face mask component.  

"This is definitely one of the most important things we've printed here," said Kris Jackson, co-founder of CrossTrainer. The company was an early partner with Verde Mantis. The relationship formed organically, as both CrossTrainer and Verde Mantis are located within the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading, with Verde Mantis utilizing co-working space within the Berks LaunchBox. 

The professional staff at the Berks LaunchBox played an important role in getting the production process started. Michelle Hnath and Patricia Leshinskie, both facility coordinators at the LaunchBox, printed the original prototypes of the shield component and ordered or provided many of the initial supplies required for CrossTrainer to get the project started.

In addition to CrossTrainer, several local organizations have joined the initiative, including Albright College, Alvernia University, the Science Research Institute, the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, the O'Pake Institute, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. The group is asking companies or individuals with 3D printers who are interested in helping to contact Adelle Schade at [email protected].

With two undergraduate engineering degrees, multiple 3D printing startups, and a full-time director position for a high-tech advanced manufacturing company’s metal additive manufacturing division, Sinclair has invested thousands of hours studying, using, and investigating ways to improve 3D printers.

Sinclair is also proud to say the Mantis is designed and built in the United States.

“'Made in America' is something we take pride in and hang our hats on," he said. "From the laser-cut sheet metal to each individual rivet, the Mantis embodies the passion and spirit of American manufacturing. In that same vein, it is no mistake we’ve decided to set up shop here: Reading’s rich manufacturing legacy is a worthy foundation from which the Mantis can grow and prosper. With the help of the Berks LaunchBox, we’ve created a product that the Reading community can rally around to continue making manufacturing history.”