Penn State Scranton alumnus using technology to fight COVID-19

Campus alumnus Jim Sagona is using his own 3D printer to produce face shields for local health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.
By: Josh McAuliffe

All over the country, ordinary people are stepping up and doing their part to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Count Penn State Scranton alumnus Jim Sagona among those good Samaritans.

The campus alumnus and 2015 University Park graduate has been using his 3D printer to produce face shields that are among the personal protective equipment (PPE) of critical importance to health care workers on the front lines of the crisis.

An assistant project manager for Wilkes-Barre-based Marx Sheet Metal and Mechanical Inc., Sagona has spent the past few weeks producing the shields during marathon printing sessions, then donating them to local health care providers Allied Services and Delta Medix, as well as individual medical professionals.

Providing an extra layer of protection in addition to masks, the shields consist of two parts – a plastic strap that goes around the head, and a clear sheet of plastic for the face.

For the shields, Sagona uses donated transparency sheets made for overhead projectors. The straps, meanwhile, are produced at a clip of one per hour in his $400 FDM 3D printer, which he purchased in January as a fun new toy.

“It’s just one small thing I can do on my end to make a difference. The people on the front lines are obviously doing a lot more than me,” said Sagona, 27, of Taylor. “It’s nice to see people are coming together to help out in any way they can.”

Sagona is among a growing movement of DIY face shield makers who are using their printers to churn out a desperately needed, yet hard-to-purchase, product. He decided to join the fold after seeing a notice on Lackawanna County’s Coronavirus Resource Information Directory.

“They’re sold out everywhere. You couldn’t buy them if you wanted to,” Sagona said of the face shields. “Once I saw other people with 3D printers were making them, I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to start making them because I have the resources and there’s a great need for them.’”

Sagona has reached out to the community at large to assist him in his goals. Since putting out a request on Facebook that led to an article in The Scranton Times-Tribune, Sagona has collected upwards of 700 transparency sheets from area residents.

“People have been mailing them, dropping them off to me. I spent last Friday driving around picking them up off of people’s porches,” he said.

Sagona is sharing the sheets with Old Forge resident Ron Soprano, a Navy veteran who has been donating his face shields to staff at Scranton’s Moses Taylor Hospital.

Between them, they’ve produced more than 300 face shields so far.

“When people get them, they’re very appreciative,” Sagona said.

Sagona certainly knows something about supply chains. After attending the Scranton campus for two years from 2011 to 2013, he completed his degree in supply chain and information systems from University Park’s Smeal College of Business.

While at Scranton, Sagona played on the men’s baseball team. He fondly recalled several of his former coaches and professors, including Director of Athletics Jeff Mallas and retired business faculty member Bernard Fagnani.

“I met a lot of friends there that I still keep in touch with, including some guys I played baseball with. It’s definitely a good environment. One thing I really liked there were the small classes,” said Sagona, who actually landed his current job when his company was recruiting project managers for the construction of the Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Building at University Park.

Sagona said he’ll continue to spend the majority of his non-work hours making face shields “until there’s no longer a demand.”

“Hopefully, I won’t have to much longer,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal – to not have to make them.”

Sagona continues to accept donated plastic transparency sheets for the face shields. He can be reached at 570-815-7568 or [email protected].