“I think you see whenever the chips are down, racing people support each other,” said Chris Simmons, Chip Ganassi Racing’s director of performance. “We race hard, and leave it on the track.”
The championship-winning race engineer is referring to the sport-wide initiative to produce medical devices that has united rival teams in a common cause. One program, developed by 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys, has CGR, Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren SP, Team Penske and more of its customers aligned and producing medical face shields using the company’s rapid-printing technology found within their respective shops.
Together, Stratasys has engaged over 1200 clients to mass produce face shield components for use by the medical community in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The production process has teams shipping the pieces they’ve printed to Stratasys, where assembly and shipping takes place; the first batch of 500 face shields was sent to the Mayo Clinic in late March. A total of 30,000 face shields have been printed and sent to date, with the number expected to reach 120,000 by the end of April.
“We are extremely proud to join the Stratasys community in helping to produce 3D printed portions of face shields,” said Michael Andretti. “Our medical workers and first responders are the front line of helping to protect our nation right now, and we’re happy to help to protect them in any way we can.”
Andretti’s daughter Marissa, managing director of Andretti Technologies, is spearheading the team’s personal protection equipment contribution of approximately 100 face shield components every 72 hours.
“When we learned of the opportunity to join Stratasys in this initiative, we knew right away that we wanted to help and do our part in representing the racing community in this fight,” she said. “We are proud to assist in the efforts to provide PPE to the front-line workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to us to help in any way we can to make a difference, and to do so as quickly as possible during this time.”
Separate from the effort coordinated by Stratasys, current and former members of the Ganassi team have been inspired to use the tools they have at home, ranging from small 3D printers they’ve purchased, or wood- and metal-working machinery to do face shields and more.
“One of our engineers, Brian Welling, has both a 3D printer and a CNC router at home,” Simmons said. “So he’s been instrumental in helping us cut the plastic for these intubation hoods as well as some of the actual shield material for the face shields. And he’s been printing the frames as well. I’ve been printing some. Jim McCabe has helped, and then Matt Swan — who now works at Meyer Shank Racing, but was with us at Ganassi for a long time — we knew he had a printer, so we contacted him. We really just leveraged all the connections we had to get as many things made as possible, getting people to focus on what they could do best and who had tools for what and who could provide what.
“We were also able to leverage some of our supplier contacts. We’ve been able to secure materials mostly at cost or some even free of charge. So it’s really been a case of everybody working together, playing to their strengths and contributing everything they can to help the cause.”
Simmons says his bosses were supportive from the moment they learned of the team’s desire to start home-based production.
“Right away we realized there was a need there for personal protective equipment as well as possibly medical devices and supplies. Chip was very encouraging for us to explore any and all opportunities there, which we’re still doing on a daily basis here,” he continued. “We sent out some feelers in many directions. It felt kind of like a sponsor search, to be honest. We just kind of carpet-bombed everybody we could think of. Indiana, through the Indiana Economic Development Commission, had set up a COVID-19 task force, so we contacted them as well as some other contacts within Indiana. Somewhat fortuitously, I know the president of IU Health, so we were able to make a connection there as well, which we then got looped back to through the IEDC.”
Jumping in to help address the shortage of ventilators was the first idea that came to Simmons and the team, but extensive red tape led to looking for other areas to make an impact.
“We looked at making ventilators, and even with the FDA emergency use authorization, by the time we got something approved, we feel like it’d be on the backside of the need,” he said. “We’re still exploring opportunities to help with parts manufacture for people that are doing that and maybe are a little further along than we are. But the immediate need has been for face shields, and some that are called ‘intubation hoods.’
“Picture an upside-down fish tank with a hole for the patient to go in and some holes for the doctor and the nurse assisting to put their arms in and intubate a patient. So it acts as a physical barrier while they do that intubation. Obviously, there’s a lot of virus that can get spread around while you’re doing that, so it just adds a little more protection, particularly with the limited amounts of PPE that are available right now.”
Racing teams, and especially race engineers and fabricators, are inherently creative, which is typified by CGR’s impromptu PPE manufacturing team.
“We’ve made I think five or six of the intubation hoods already and they’ve come out real nice, so we’re starting to send those out to the hospitals for use,” Simmons said. “And we’re working on some designs at the moment for some ventilator filters that look like they could be in short supply down the line. We’ve done some CAD work on the designs and pulled in our designers on that. We’ve even looked at, and are making some parts to convert, snorkel masks into personal protective equipment using medical filters. So just taking any and all opportunities we can to help where we can.”
Take the good work by the groups at Andretti, AMSP, CGR, Penske, and the rest who’ve been motivated to help in the battle against COVID-19, and there’s plenty to be proud of within the motor racing family.
“It can get a little tedious sitting at home working on this stuff and not seeing the people you work with – and not really seeing anybody outside of your immediate family – but every time I get a little depressed, I just think if this saves just one person, it’s all worth it,” Simmons said. “So all the teams that have the manufacturing capabilities have been going as hard as we can and exploring every opportunity we can.
“You’ve seen when accidents happen – or even as recently as St. Pete, when Andretti had the fire on Colton Herta’s transporter – there were plenty of teams out that lined up to offer assistance. Now the teams are all working to help fight this coronavirus battle and do what we can while we’re not racing.
“We’d like nothing more than to get back racing and put on a show for the fans, but we want to do it when it’s safe for us, and especially when it’s safe for the fans and doesn’t [risk] spreading the virus more and doesn’t jeopardize people’s health. So it’s really good to see the paddock all pull together for a common cause.”