[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
YOUNGSTOWN — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fitz Frames has shifted its focus from making kids glasses to manufacturing protective eyewear for frontline medical workers at its manufacturing facility at the Youngstown Business Incubator.
Fitz Frames recently launched Fitz Protect, a line of custom 3D-printed protective eyewear designed to fit around the contours of the wearer’s face and provide protection against small droplets from reaching the eyes.
“A little over a month ago we were approached by some doctors and nurses who had concerns that they really had difficulty finding prescription protective equipment that would work. There was some guidance that they should stop wearing contact lenses if treating [COVID-19] positive patients,” Gabe Schlumberger, CEO of Fitz Frames said.
“In a lot of cases [frontline medical workers] were wearing just standard glasses with cardboard cutouts on them and they were concerned that it wasn't protecting them from droplets,” he added.
Fitz Protect eyewear is available in both prescription and non-prescription. The reusable frames are able to hold up in standard hospital sterilizable procedures.
“[Frontline medical workers are] pulling 12-, 18-hour shifts and [Fitz Protect glasses] are much more comfortable than the other options they have, and, they work really well in conjunction with other PPE,” Schlumberger said.
Every pair of Fitz Protect are made in Youngstown with orders from every state. Classic Optical Laboratories Inc. is Fitz Frame’s lens provider.
“[Classic Optical] and YBI have been amazing partners throughout this process. They're turning these around incredibly quickly,” Schlumberger said. “We wouldn't be anywhere without YBI.”
Fitz Frames launched in 2019. Although a fairly new business, Schlumberger said Fitz Frames has taken the production strategy already in place to create Fitz Protect.
“Using our app, we scan your face and then at our manufacturing facility at the Youngstown Business Incubator we’re able to 3D print custom glasses,” he said.
The Fitz App takes several thousands of measurements of a customer's face in order to custom fit each wearer. And each pair can be tried on virtually.
According to Schlumberger, once it was evident that 3D printing could aid healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fitz Frames staff unanimously voted to shift their business model.
So, how did this young company with less than a year of operation and seven employees adapt to a new market within a month?
“We’re not getting a lot of sleep,” Schlumberger chuckled. “Honestly, we’re incredibly lucky to have a really skilled and nimble team.”
Schlumberger said Fitz Frames consulted with roughly 15 medical professionals nationally who are on the frontlines of the pandemic to gain their input on the Fitz Protect design.
“The really neat thing about 3D printing and additive manufacturing is that you can change the design with every build. So over the course of 11 days, we had seven different iterations that we were sending out to people overnight, and then getting their feedback on a phone call in the morning and adapting to changes during the day,” he said.
“We’ve even updated the design in the three weeks since we’ve launched — just making little incremental improvements along the way,” he added.
Usually, Fitz Frames arrive to customers within a week, but Schlumberger said there has been an overwhelming amount of orders for Fitz Protect, causing roughly two weeks for delivery and an extensive waitlist.
“We only expected to make a few hundred of these. It turns out that there's a lot more folks out there who need [Fitz Protect] than we anticipated. We have more than 3,200 people on our waitlist right now,” he said.
Fitz Frames is combating the increasing orders by adding a new machine to production and an additional work shift to meet the high demand.
“The more medical professionals who can get these and hopefully prevent them from getting infected, the better. We're ramping up production as quickly as we possibly can,” Schlumberger said.
The Fitz Protect frames can be purchased for $100, but Fitz Frames has raised nearly $80,000 with the goal to provide Fitz Protect for free to frontline medical professionals in need.
Frontline workers who are interested in receiving a free pair of Fitz Protect can sign up here to be added to the waitlist.
Additionally, Sight for All United also has a sign up on their website for Fitz Protect and is working with Fitz Frames in an effort to coordinate and prioritize orders in the Mahoning Valley.
Monetary donations for Fitz Protect can be made on the Fitz Protect Go Fund Me page.
Schlumberger said Fitz Protect has had a positive response and Fitz Frames is prioritizing orders based on need.
“We’re pulling people off the waitlist based on how many COVID patients they're seeing and what their particular discipline is,” he said.