We Have Thousands of Reasons to Be Grateful for 3D Printers – and Partners Like StayLinked

Find out how a group of software engineers was able to rally an entire industry to help front-line healthcare heroes during the pandemic.

Justin Griffith, CTO of StayLinked, holds bags of 3D printed face shields
by Therese Van Ryne
December 03, 2021

December 3 is 3D Printing Day (D3 for 3D), and what better way to celebrate it than to showcase those who are using the innovative technology for good.

So, we connected with Justin Griffith, Chief Technology Officer of StayLinked, a Zebra Premier Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Partner, to learn more about how he and a team of software engineers banded together with only a 3D printer and an idea to help 50,000 healthcare workers stay safe during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therese: First off, thank you for stepping up to help restore our front-line heroes during the pandemic.

Justin: It was my pleasure. I’ve personally been 3D printing since about 2013. Truthfully, during the early shelter-in-place orders I was very grateful to have something that I loved doing turn out to be the thing we as a team could do to support others. For a number of weeks, it felt like there was just nothing that could be done about any of it, and the biggest contribution we could make was not being part of the problem. It was a unique experience being able to help friends, family, and their friends and family.

Therese: I know you gave back to local and global communities in many different ways during the pandemic. Can you tell us a little bit about your efforts?

Justin: StayLinked has always had a straightforward mission: “To be the most innovative and well-respected software provider in the markets we serve by continuing our commitment to total customer satisfaction.”

We’ve spent the last year and a half doing what we could to achieve that objective. Initially, that meant finding ways to operate our business and support our customers and partners in a safe and healthy way while searching for opportunities to contribute to the greater good.

As the challenges of COVID-19 changed, we found ourselves frustrated with not being able to help because much of the world was sheltering in place, effectively quarantined. But some of the StayLinked team explored what was possible in trying to meet some of the challenges in the early days of the pandemic.

Therese: What did they learn?

Justin: Many organizations were crowdsourcing incredibly scarce medical personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies for front-line healthcare workers. If you recall, the first signs of strain on the supply chain for PPE began to manifest in Europe and Asia. So, when the same symptoms began to hit the U.S. weeks later, we knew we had to help. That’s when we fired up our 3D printers and started making reusable face shields.  

One of the 3D printer setups used by StayLinked CTO while stuck at home during the pandemic

Therese: StayLinked is a software company, not a manufacturing company, though. Why did you have 3D printers? And why did you commit to helping in this way versus something more in line with your day-to-day business?

Justin: Right! We make a Terminal Emulation software. So, the 3D printing we did up to that point was for research and development in warehouse technology where Terminal Emulation is most frequently used. We do a great deal of proof-of-concept work, and it can be difficult to find a place to put things like full-scale robots or conveyor systems. But we can print small scale versions of them fairly easily.

It was a very steep learning curve for us, especially when it came to things like medical grade design, scalability, distribution, and the like. We did, however, have customers and contacts who are in these businesses. So, we knew we had partners throughout the industry, including Zebra, that could help us improve designs, refine manufacturing processes, source raw materials and, perhaps most importantly, distribute the items to those on the front lines who needed them most.

We ended up collaborating with people all over the world on safer, more efficient designs for the shields. The whole industry banded together to help us distribute PPE where it was needed most. And the outpouring of support for the effort from customers, partners, and even competitors helped drive home what people, companies, and industries can do when we work toward a common goal.

Components of the face shields 3D-printed by StayLinked employees

Therese: That’s remarkable.

Justin: Well, we’re extremely grateful for Zebra’s support. We used Zebra Windows® tablets to help us manage the configuration and operation of the 3D printing equipment. And once the protective equipment was manufactured using the 3D printers, many contacts within Zebra and its partner community reached out to request needed items for their contacts in the medical field and essential worker industries. Zebra Sales Engineer, John Wolf, was actually responsible for our first interstate delivery of PPE. It's incredible the impact a small, focused team can make. It was a very inspiring and educational experience.

Staylinked CTO Justin Griffith holds a Zebra rugged tablet next to a 3D printer

ThereseHow many masks did you end up distributing?

Justin: By the end of the four-month 3D printing run, thousands of reusable face shields had been manufactured and distributed, protecting over 50,000 front-line workers in multiple states and countries. But that’s probably not the whole story given StayLinked’s General Manager, Soozy Mangum, stayed busy sewing reusable cloth masks for local healthcare workers while I stayed busy with a few others printing the face shields. When all was said and done, the StayLinked team collectively manufactured PPE supplies for multiple NICUs, emergency rooms, dentist offices, and pharmacies.

We actually documented our journey and learnings in a blog post on our website, if anyone wants to check it out. You can see the experience we had along the way.

A nurse wears a face shield 3D-printed by StayLinked employees

Therese: Has your philanthropic philosophy changed since the start of the pandemic?

Justin: Considerably. When we first started, I didn’t have any idea how much help we could actually be. We focused in on a philosophy: we’ll start by offering the PPE to front-line medical professionals. If it couldn’t be used there because maybe it wasn’t hospital-grade enough or whatever, we’d move on to pharmacies and first responders. And if not there, then essential workforces. Finally, if no one else could use them, then we’d give them to family and friends. We worked hard on making them medical-grade and were rewarded for the effort. But no matter what the outcome had been, even if we’d only been able to protect a few friends and loved ones, it unquestionably would have been worth doing.

The lesson we took was that even if it’s only helpful to a few, it might mean the world to those few. And if you get lucky, like we did, and have a chance to help many by doing something that brings you joy, relish it, and get to work.

Therese: Is there anything that StayLinked will be committing to as we head into a new year?

Justin: We’ve discovered a number of really great organizations that can help keep our 3D printers working toward a good cause. Enablingthefuture.org, for example, lets us volunteer our idle 3D printers to print prosthetic hands that then get shipped directly to children born without fingers. We will certainly be continuing our relationship with Team Rubicon, a brilliant organization that mobilizes veterans and first responders to assist in recovery and rebuilding efforts following natural disasters.

Ultimately though, I think one of the best lessons reinforced by the pandemic is how important the people around us are. This has been the greatest experiment in our company’s history with regard to what it means to work. So, in the day-to-day category of commitments, we remain committed to enabling a work/life balance for our team that always errs on the side of life, health, and relationships. The harder we’ve leaned into that, the more my faith in humanity is bolstered by the result.

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Editor’s Note:

Zebra recently donated $5,000USD to Team Rubicon in honor of StayLinked’s efforts to help “Restore Front-Line Heroes” during the pandemic. If you would like to amplify the donation, you can do so here.

Staylinked CTO Justin Griffith gives a thumbs up
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Therese Van Ryne
Therese Van Ryne is Global Director of PR, Thought Leadership and Advocacy for Zebra Technologies. One of PR News’ 2019 Top Women in PR and Crain's Chicago's 2021 Most Notable Executives in Marketing, Therese also has experience as a journalist, editor and producer, reporting nightly from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.