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Local Manufacturers Stepping Up To Produce Personal Protective Equipment For Hospitals, First Responders

CHICAGO (CBS) -- From the South Side of Chicago to the western suburbs, from robot makers to design companies, businesses across the area are reprogramming their machines to make personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and medical professionals.

They're doing what they can to help as COVID-19 eats up resources across the country. CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shows us how it all comes together.

The team at Bridgewater Studio thinks up designs for storefront displays and museum exhibits; from the Shedd Aquarium, to Beverly Center mall in Los Angeles, to Facebook's Chicago office.

Their machine at 35th and Paulina cuts out some of the materials needed to build. It's pretty cool, but is it essential? Not if you ask partner Eric Cup.

"We do 98% of our production in house so we can pivot manufacturing at a moment's notice," he said.

Here's the pivot. The machines are now programed to cut out protective face shields used by first responders and medical professionals. It's another layer of protection at a time when PPE is in high demand.

There's even an assembly line of sorts; wiping down the plastic, cutting and applying elastic bands and foam.

"If we can do something  that benefits the community, allows us to keep our people employed and pay their health insurance when they really need it the most, it would be the best decision for everyone," Cup said.

The team at Bridgewater hopes to make about 6,000 face shields a day. The Cicero Fire Department already ordered about 1,200 of them. Cicero police will also use them.

Nine miles from Bridgewater, Tapster Robotics in Oak Park is 3D printing bands that can be used for similar shields. They plan to print about 50 per day, and get them to hospitals or medical professionals who need more equipment.

Founder Jason Huggins has already found a group in need: Swedish Hospital in Lincoln Square.

"We're all gonna want to have doctors, and nurses, and health care professionals available and healthy," Huggins said.

As for Bridgewater, they say they're in touch with other suburban mayors and first responders.

Maybe not as flashy as their Facebook display, but perhaps the most impressive project yet.

Cicero's fire chief said the shields were very affordable. Bridgewater said they're charging just the manufacturing costs, plus the money needed to keep the lights on and keep their workers' health insurance.

As for Tapster's operation, they said the parts will be donated, because their manufacturing cost is very minimal.

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