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Client Spotlight – The Gelston Family Helped Donate 1,200 Respirators to U of U Health

Posted by Scott Maizlish on Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 at 10:39am.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s widely known that hospitals have been in dire need of personal protective gear. This gear helps to protect doctors, nurses, and other health care workers from becoming infected when treating patients with COVID-19. Unfortunately, the hospitals in Utah are no exception and have also had a desperate need for personal protective equipment. 

Thankfully, our former client Dan Gelston was able to rally up dozens of volunteers at his company, L3Harris, to convert their manufacturing lines to build over one thousand Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR) to donate to the University of Utah Health System. 

Dan Gelston is not only the President of Broadband Communications Systems at L3Harris Technologies, but he is also a former client of ours and worked with Scott to purchase his home in Park City, Utah about two years ago. 

When we reached out to him to see if he’d chat with us about creating and donating all of the gear, he happily agreed. 

How It All Got Started

Because of Utah’s need for personal protective equipment, the University of Utah’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) was desperate to find an inexpensive and fast way to design and manufacture critical gear called Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR’s for short).

This equipment straps onto medical personnel and provides a much higher level of protection against infection than typical N95 filter masks. In fact, the agency stated that by using the masks, the infection rate of medical personnel would likely drop by approximately six times!

The CMI decided to reach out to L3Harris, the company that Gelston works for, to see if there was any way the company could help in the effort to produce PAPR’s, and L3Harris was eager to help. 

L3Harris, founded in 1956, creates high-tech communications gear that is used by the U.S. military. The employees of the company are used to creating equipment that aids and protects military personnel. So, when presented with the opportunity to create equipment for the health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gelston and his employees were enthusiastic about participating. 

As division president at L3Harris, Gelston was certain that with their over 1 million square feet of manufacturing space at their facility near the Salt Lake City International Airport, and thousands of employees, the company could find a way to help. 

Designing and Manufacturing 1,200 PAPR Units in Less Than Two Weeks

A few of Gelston’s top engineers teamed up with the Center for Medical Innovation at the University of Utah to work on the design for a personal respirator device that could be built using both off-the-shelf and 3D printed parts. Once the plan was approved, the initial order of 1,000 units needed to get manufactured ASAP.

Dan Gelston quickly burst into action and converted a production line at the facility. He donated resources to stand up the production line and then went to work recruiting volunteers. “We had so many volunteers willing to help produce the PAPRS that we had to turn away one person for every other one that volunteered,” he said. In total, over 200 people offered to help with the production, although only 100 were needed for the project. 

One critical piece of the PAPR that needed to be fabricated was a small funnel needed to connect the respirator fan to an air hose. 3D printers throughout the valley were put into action creating that component. 

In total, once the L3Harris team of volunteers received the first supply of parts, it took just nine days until the full order was delivered to the University of Utah Health. Talk about an incredible community effort!

Gelston Family Involvement

In addition to the many volunteer employees who helped produce the equipment, there were a few other key participants involved as well. Namely, Dan Gelston’s three daughters – Ella, 12, Sofia, 9, and Anna, 8. All three girls worked with their family’s 3D printer to create that essential funnel component needed for the respirators. 

The 3D printer took exactly 4 hours and 50 minutes to create each piece, so the girls would say, “Alexa, set a timer for 4 hours and 50 minutes,” so that they could promptly run back to the printer to retrieve the piece and set the machine up to create another.

The girls used the printer 24/7 for nearly a week, making dozens of pieces. Although the girls did most of the work, Gelston chuckled when he mentioned, “I usually got stuck with the graveyard shifts.” 

Gelston also talked about how his daughters incorporated their personal touch into the parts they were making. “In typical 12, 9, and 8-year-old fashion, they chose to make the components bright pink instead of regular black,” he said. 

He then recalled one morning when the Gelston girls ran into a big problem – they ran out of the supplies needed to make the components pink. The girls had an urgent team meeting to discuss other color options and ultimately decided on a bright purple. Thankfully, the crisis was averted, and they were then able to finish up the rest of the production. 

Gelston said it was really neat to see the pink and purple funnels being used in some of the PAPRs on the production line, knowing that his daughters created those parts.  

After the initial order of 1,000 respirators was complete, a follow-up order of 200 was requested and the team worked quickly to get them all created. All in all, the entire process only took a handful of weeks before all 1,200 respirators were donated to the healthcare workers. 

This donation will certainly go a long way in helping to protect the essential healthcare workers on the frontlines of this COVID-19 pandemic. 


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