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'It's the least we can do to help': Deere & Co. manufactured and distributed 400,000 face shields

'It's the least we can do to help': Deere & Co. manufactured and distributed 400,000 face shields


What started as an effort to make 25,000 plastic protective face shields for hospitals and healthcare facilities in areas where John Deere has factories, grew into something far larger.

By the time John Deere Seeding shut down its mask making recently, it had made and donated more than 400,000 face shields.

David Ottavianelli, director, of labor relations and strategic projects at Deere, called it one of the most fulfilling projects he ever worked on.

"It was amazing to see our team come together, the empathy and passion of our employees, coupled with the efficiency to get the material and make material, and then the reaction from recipients across the nation was simply amazing. It was incredible."

The project began as a small effort to aid communities Deere is located in as they fought the coronavirus.

“I think our immediate interest when we first started the project was to basically support the health care professionals in the communities where John Deere operates because we already have existing relationships with the many outlets and members of the community,” said Brad Russmann, factory manager at John Deere Seeding. “As we were able to procure more supplies and really ramp up production, what started as a vision of producing 25,000 of these ultimately turned into us producing 400,000. That enabled us to start supporting those outside of our communities.”

In the end, 103,000 went to Iowa recipients and 100,000 were distributed in Illinois. In addition, 134,000 face shields were sent to 49 VA facilities in 35 states.

The staff was easily motivated, Russmann and Ottavianelli, said with many having connections via family, friends or neighbors in the healthcare field. 

Quad-City contacts with healthcare professionals sparked the project, Ottavianelli said.

"They reached out and said, 'hey, we need help in getting this additional PPE (personal protective equipment). Those personal conversations and connections led us to action.'"

“It was just an exciting opportunity for all of us to give back and support those who are on the frontlines trying to help us,” Russmann  said. “So it’s the least we can do to help.”

The typical external protective face shield consists of a face shield that has a piece of brow foam that adheres to the plastic, Russmann explained. “Then we staple an elastic strap around the top of it that basically goes around the head. (The shield) extends down below the chin, about halfway down the neck.”

Production was wrapped up a little over two weeks ago at John Deere Seeding, 501 River Drive, Moline.

The need for the protective face shields came at a good time, Russmann said of the early April time frame when it started.

“We were fortunate in this case where we weren't as busy with normal production, so we were able to kind of able to redistribute some of our normal workforce that otherwise wasn’t working on maintenance projects or production for our customers,” he said.

A total of 65 people worked on the project, including 50 factory workers from the UAW and IAM (Illinois Manufacturers' Association) and 15 salaried employees.

“This is a great illustration of our team’s teamwork, and having collaboration,” Russmann said. In just a week it went from an idea “into producing our first box of 100 face shields."

Deere has no long-term plan to continue making the protective shields, Russmann said. It’s back to the usual at the factory that makes planting and precision ag components for North American market and export.

“However, all of our processes and tools and fixtures that we created to produce these… we’ve got them stored up in the event of a second wave or other things so that we’re on the ready to begin to help.”

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The Scott County Emergency Management Agency did not place any orders this past week to the state of Iowa for personal protection equipment, or PPE, because "we have enough stock on hand to fulfill everything that's been ordered," director Dave Donovan said Friday.

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