Part 2: The Solin Flatpack Face Shield

Jeff Solin teaches Computer Science and runs the makerspace at Lane Technical High School in Chicago.

Lane Tech is a mammoth, old-style public high school building that serves 4,500 students. Down one of its many wings, Jeff Solin has developed LTMakers Lab over the last six years. When the school closed because of the pandemic, Jeff thought: “I’ve got this wonderful lab that I’ve built at Lane with lots of resources and equipment, and I was thinking we can put those to good use to help people.” Having that equipment sit idle didn’t make sense to him.

He emailed his administration asking if he could use the makerspace to begin making solutions. “And they jumped right on it,” he said. “My principal said ‘let me see what I can do’ and he worked up the food chain pretty quick.” In a few days, Jeff was on a Zoom call with his principal and various school officials. “I basically ended up getting approval that at least I could go into the lab and we would try and find some grant money for supplies.” He began ordering supplies. “I started working on my own design because I was thinking, I’ve got these digital fabrication tools, and wondered how could I put them to use?”

He designed a face shield that could be made on a laser cutter much more quickly than a 3D printer and it could be made entirely out of a sheet of plastic material without other components. It takes under 2 minutes to make it on a laser cutter. He called it the Solin Flatpack because the face shields could be stacked and shipped flat like sheets. “You could ship a hundred of them in a small box,” said Jeff. It comes with one-page assembly instructions.

illustration by Craighton Berman from Solin Flatpack Website

To make the point really clear, the difference between the 3D printed face shield and the Solin Flatpack shield is that the former requires other components such as the elastic for the straps. Jeff’s design is all cut from an individual sheet of PETG plastic and then the parts are removed and fit together to make the shield..

Screenshot of (video demo on Jeff’s Website.)

Read more articles about Plan C: What makers are doing to combat Covid-19

While he was still iterating on his design, Jeff had connected with Jay and others in the network. Jay told him about the nodes of a mesh network with each node producing face shields and then delivering them to homes of ER doctors by bike couriers. Jeff wanted to help and joined as an organizer. He thought he would be able to work with Chicago Public Schools AND connect it to the IllinoisPPE network that was taking off.

In a call with CPS officials, Jeff learned that anything he made in the Lane makerspace would have to go to the Office of Emergency Management Communications (OEMC) of Chicago Public Schools. He couldn’t deliver face shields or components to the network. He thought he could bring the two efforts together but officials were raising legal challenges. He sent a big email advocating for sharing resources instead of working separately. “I don’t know if that’s gonna be successful or not yet.” he told me a week ago. Then he heard back from CPS. Unfortunately, efforts to liberate the equipment from CPS have so far failed.

CPS hasn’t hampered Jeff’s own efforts, as he’s using a Glowforge at home for prototyping. Solin thinks it’s a shame that the equipment in the LT Maker Lab sits unused. He’s continued to iterate his design and make his face shield at home. Jeff documented this progress on Twitter.

He was put in touch with doctors at the University of Chicago Hospital. He was excited to get real feedback. “I had my ideas on what would be good, but I’m not a doctor and I’m not out in the field,” he said.. “It was phenomenal.” One of them, Dr. Juan Alban, would stop by his house and pick up a pack of shields. Jeff was regularly on the phone with doctors talking, texting or using FaceTime. “I listen and I say, ‘yep.’ Then I write it all down and then the next day I make a new version and get it to them.”

Dr. Alexandra Rojak posted a video to Twitter of her putting on the Solin Face Shield.

Dr. Alban let Jeff know that Dr. Rojak was a former student of Jeff’s and she also posted about it.

The doctors have been so great to him. “It’s heartwarming,” he said and then abruptly asked me: “Have you ever had somebody thank you for something that you don’t want to be thanked for? This one doctor says that he is so grateful and thanks me so much for my time. And all I can think is, well, thank you. Keep saving people’s lives. Last night he asked me, what do I want in compensation and I was like, ‘man, I don’t want anything. I just want to be able to help.’”

Jeff was running low on PETG plastic and he reached out through a friend to the Workshop 88 network. By April 10, Jeff heard from a manufacturer in Minnesota named TriDie who would die-cut the face shields for free at a production rate of 2,000/hr. JC Marovich, owner of TriDie, responded to a call for help because his daughter is a nurse.

Below is a photo of the face shield die that is used to stamp out the shields in sheets of plastic.

Steel Rolled Die for Solin Flat Pack Shield (Source: TriDie)

The Illinois PPPE Network, a group that decided not to focus on creating its own designs and jumped right into production, ended up developing an original design, the Solin Flatpack Face Shield. A high school CS teacher creates it, with no background in product design or manufacturing and while unable to use his school’s makerspace during the COVID-19 crisis.


Other parts in this series:

  1. Introduction
  2. A Mesh Network for Making Face Shields
  3. The Solin Flatpack Face Shield
  4. Who’s Not in the Network
  5. Binge-making with Dan Meyer