The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) is collaborating with union contractors to produce and donate aluminum nose strips for the millions of masks being made by volunteer groups across the country — in order to help address the issue of critical shortages of face masks and other protective equipment across the U.S. The thin and flexible aluminum strips are critical to custom-fitting the top of a mask to a user’s face, making them more effective, less likely to slip off and more comfortable to wear.
The Hillery Company, a custom metal fabrication shop located in Groton, Connecticut, has mailed out more than 500 packages containing over 40,000 metal nose strips.
“Hillery was asked by a local nurse to make the aluminum strips used on N95 masks so they could sew them in the cotton masks being made by volunteers around the country,” said Joe de la Cruz, a Hillery employee and SMART Local 40 member. “We have received requests from hospitals and small sewing groups from every state and Canada. … This is a grassroots effort and most of the folks asking for the strips are sharing stories about their loved ones going to work without protection.”
Working off a sample N95 mask provided by the local seamstress, Hillery designed a strip that was slightly shorter in order to be able to produce more parts from a single sheet of aluminum, while still functioning well. The company sheared one 48 x 96 inch aluminum sheet into sixteen 3 x 96 inch strips then tacked a spacer in two spots, enabling them to cut 16 parts per hit. De la Cruz noted that the strip “could be different sizes depending on how you are cutting them.”
With more than 3,000 requests totaling more than 300,000 nose pieces since March 24, requests quickly outstripped the company’s capacity to fulfill and ship all the orders. De la Cruz reached out to leadership of his union for help. “We need all hands on deck as this effort is too big for a small company in Connecticut,” he said. “The Union has the infrastructure to handle this request. … Time is of the essence as orders for first responders will go unfilled as we cannot possibly fill them.”
Hillery received an immediate response, with union locals and union sheet metal contractors from around the country eager to join the effort. Together, they effectively began crowd-sourcing mass production of the small aluminum pieces.
Within hours of creating an online request form, SMART received over 100 requests totaling more than 15,000 metal strips from volunteers making donated face masks from Alaska to Florida. As each request comes in, SMART assigns it to union local near the ZIP code of the request, who will then work with a union contractor in the area to produce the strips and deliver them to the volunteer or organization that requested them.
The aluminum strips are being used by various volunteer groups to produce N95 (rated to filter out 95% of airborne particles) and N99 (rated to filter out 99%) masks, which will be delivered to health care workers and first responders across the U.S.
“We want to do everything we can to help and support health care workers and first responders who are on the front lines helping people and saving lives in our communities during this public health crisis,” said Joseph Sellers general president of SMART. “This is a great idea that began with one union shop in Connecticut and took off like wildfire. We are now working to scale this up as fast as we can across the United States and Canada.”
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking to receive nose pieces, please contact SMART using their online request form.