MERCEDES — Over the course of two weeks, one Rio Grande Valley has completely recalibrated its business models in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic on an industrial scale.
Mercedes-based Reybotics, which specializes in robot design and development for education, began producing affordable, disposable face shields for the medical community this week.
The masks are fairly simple, essentially a white plastic headband with a foam cushion and a transparent plastic visor. There’s a little blue cross in the center of the headband.
Reybotics founder Heriberto Reynoso said the shields take about a minute to make and he hoped to have 2,400 of the shields complete by the end of Friday.
“I designed it two nights ago,” Reynoso, a former NASA employee, said. “We have a company where we produce robots, and we’re using the machines just to produce these face shields now.”
Reynoso said demand for the face shields has been shocking.
“We have enough right now for 5,000 faceshields, but even that’s not enough. It’s insane right now how many people need faceshields,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of calls from hospitals, pediatric centers, clinics, pretty much Valleywide. Outside that we have some folks across the border in Mexico that want to buy thousands of them, and then some folks also in NYC have reached out, just because of the shortage worldwide.”
Reybotics also gets calls from ordinary residents in the Valley. Reynoso said the company doesn’t have the capability to distribute masks on such a small scale.
“There’s a lot of local folks that have been calling in. The problem with that… is we don’t sell one, two, three at a time, we’re a manufacturer,” he said.
While Reynoso said Reybotics has the capacity to produce the shields by the thousands, securing the materials necessary to create them is a more difficult challenge. Reynoso has spent the past two weeks scouring the Valley for plastic film and yoga mats, which are chopped up and used as a cushion in the masks.
“Currently the only issue is that we need more raw materials,” he said. “What I’m currently working on is redesigning the shield so that we get rid of the foam and we stick to just using one plastic for the brace on top. The front part is still an issue, so we’re trying to find suppliers for the film up front.”
Reynoso said that gathering supplies and getting production underway is a race against the clock.
“What I want to focus on is trying to get these done as quickly as possible before it gets a little crazier here in the Valley,” he said. “If we have an NYC situation I foresee local authorities are really going to enforce that stay-at-home law, and then it will be really difficult for us to move around and get materials.”
Reynoso said he hopes to use the proceeds from face shield sales as capital for a more complicated project: producing ventilators.
“We want to use the capital when we sell the initial batch to start producing ventilators for the Valley,” he said. “We want to help produce a few hundred to help out.”
Reynoso said he expects the Reybotics team to begin working on ventilators in a matter of days.
“It’s a need and we know we’re helping out the community, and we’re just glad we’re able to be a part of it,” he said.