A local manufacturer was ahead of the game when he conceived the idea of producing protective masks and face shields for those who need them during the coronavirus pandemic.

John Hopper is the owner of Hopper Development Incorporated (HDI), which was founded by Hopper’s father Robert in 1970. HDI makes products using precision plastic injection molding and offers mold building and tooling services. Hopper said over the years the company has produced many molds and tooling for different types of plastic components, though never before for any medical device.

According to Hopper, he had an eye on the COVID-19 outbreak a few months ago when the virus was really beginning to escalate in China.

“I guess I watch a lot of news,” Hopper said. “We’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world.”

Hopper recalled that in January people around the world were getting pretty concerned about the virus. He then noticed manufacturers in other parts of the world coming out with designs for various protective gear or PPE.

“There were designs for the face shields and even the respirator masks,” he said. “It was because there was a shortage and people were getting very, very nervous. And I thought well, there’s nothing stopping that virus from hitting the United States. It just made sense.”

Hopper said he examined some of the designs for the face shields and got his team at HDI together in late February to begin the process of creating a mask using their 3D printers. It was an endeavor that took several phases.

“We have four 3D printers,” he said. “We went through about a hard week of development on these face shields. We didn’t like any of the designs that were coming out of different sources.”

According to Hopper, many of the existing designs he and his team looked at used elastic, and they had heard from healthcare workers that the elastic was uncomfortable. They also noticed elastic was almost completely unavailable to order.

“We started to experiment with a design that is kind of like a heavy duty pair of sunglasses,” Hopper said. It was a tough week of design and print. We had all of our printers running constantly, making these things.”

Hopper said a 3D printer is not a fast machine and it took about three hours to make one frame, even though there were four machines running. Hopper then made a decision. He asked the design and tooling department to make a plastic injection mold.

“They were excited about it,” he said. “They jumped on it and built a mold in a week for these that would normally take six to eight weeks to build.”

Hopper noted that throughout the design and production process, he had some valuable feedback from a friend.

“There’s a friend of mine that’s a doctor at Logansport Memorial Hospital and he offered a couple suggestions and we made those changes immediately,” Hopper said.

When the details of the design and the production process were fleshed out, the team at HDI began producing the PPE in earnest. Hopper said he brought a laser cutting machine home to his personal workshop so he could work on cutting the clear face shield itself. He has been working every day and said his family has been helping.

“My wife gave me our dining room table so I’ve got that to use as a work space as well. So it’s worked out wonderfully you know. It’s kept us busy here at home,” Hopper said.

It seems like busy is somewhat of an understatement. Hopper noted that they have been continuously sending out shipments for weeks now.

“We’ve been making daily shipments to many medical providers,” he said. “Lately the majority have been going to Logansport Memorial Hospital and our health department. We’ve sent them to Fort Wayne. We have a constant stream going to north Indianapolis.”

Hopper also said they have been sending shields to dentists, nursing homes, and eye doctors.

Incredibly, Hopper is giving the PPE away free of charge.

“We’re not selling these,” he said. “We’re donating these to any medical provider out there who wants to feel a little safer.”

He said they are getting good feedback at HDI from providers who have been using the masks. One prominent doctor at the hospital told Hopper the mask fits better than anything else he has tried, Hopper said.

While the enthusiastic response has kept Hopper quite busy at home, he is happy to do it.

“It’s a joy knowing that our healthcare providers feel protected,” Hopper said. “It’s a tiny little thing. They have so much workload, and if it makes them feel a little bit more comfortable it is so worth it. Whatever little we can do. We have the capability to make these things, so we’re doing it.”

For information on ordering protective masks from HDI, can call their office at 574-753-6621.

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