SAUK RAPIDS -- Local manufacturer St. Cloud Window is closed amid Minnesota's COVID-19 stay at home order, but that isn't stopping them from using their equipment to make much-needed personal protective equipment for front-line medical workers.

Casey Mahon, president of the Sauk Rapids-based window and door manufacturer, says his wheels started turning during a recent nightly local news broadcast.

“I’m really not a ‘watch the evening news’ kind of guy, but I happened to be watching that night, and I saw this story,” Mahon said.

The story profiled a student who had begun using 3D printers and other equipment, left idle at St. Thomas Academy in St. Paul during the shutdown, to make face shields.

“(The student) is actually part of a larger group that originated out in Boston,” Mahon explained. “They’re doing this all over the country."

(The student) sent us the program file for our printer, and we went into the face shield printing business,” Mahon laughed.

Mahon, supported by a St. Cloud Window engineer based in Monticello, fired up the 3D printer and began printing visors last Thursday. The machine can print four visors at a time, with each print run taking around 6.5 hours, Mahon said.

“I have 50 visors finished and ready to be packaged up now,” he said. “They’re pretty simple, but they do take a long time to print.”

The visor is one third of a face shield; when completed, the device includes a headband and a clear plastic sheet to protect the wearer's face while performing COVID-19 testing or providing medical care.

Now that the printing process is underway, Mahon plans to speak with Stearns County officials before deciding what to do with completed visors.

“We have two options,” Mahon said. “We can send them back to St. Thomas Academy, where they’ll be assembled. Or, if we prefer to keep (the face shields) local, they’ll send the components, and we’ll assemble and keep them here. It’s about the need; if our area is well-stocked, we’ll send them down to the metro area.”

St. Cloud Window has been closed throughout the duration of stay at home order. Though Mahon says they’re considered an essential service, they decided to suspend operations out of concern for the company's 46 employees. Mahon says they’re hoping to have the business up and running again in a week or two.

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