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The World Changed and We're Built for Challenges: A Deep Dive Into a Makerspace Response

Join us Friday, July 24, 2020 at the Capitol Hill Makers Faire @ 1:00 PM for a virtual conversation about Open Works and PPE production. (Free Admission)

We quickly pivoted in March, as did most of the world, to respond to the greatest public health crisis in a century. As we continued our primary research project, we launched a comprehensive case study of the Open Works response to the PPE shortage created by COVID-19. The study yielded a 50-page report with many implications for a path to recovery, the role of makerspaces in supply chain agility, and practices for a post-COVID-19 economy. Read the following introduction and bios of the authors. Oh yes, and don't forget to set a calendar reminder for the August 1 release.


The impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic has been swift and pervasive. From the first report by the World Health Organization (WHO) of a “mysterious pneumonia” sickening dozens in Wuhan, China, to the global spread of 7,887,221 confirmed cases reported by the Johns Hopkins University on June 14, 2020, every social and economic system has been challenged beyond any experience in recent history. The spread in the United States has exceeded that of any nation during the same period with 2,093,335 confirmed cases since the first case was reported on January 21, 2020. In less than two months, the first confirmed death in the U.S. was reported on February 29, 2020 and the number of deaths nationwide exceeded 116,000 in less than five months. The devastation led noted Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman to describe the economy as being in a “medically induced coma” as a result of closings of all businesses, except those declared as essential, leaving 22 million U.S. workers seeking unemployment benefits.

One of the greatest threats to the U.S. ability to mitigate the impact and recover is the lack of preparedness for a public health crisis of this magnitude. The high rates of uninsured, the high out-of-pocket costs of healthcare compared to other countries, having fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita than most other developed countries, and having a woefully inadequate stockpile of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), “specialized clothing or equipment worn by an employee for protection against infectious materials” (OSHA) are all vulnerabilities that have been exposed by the pandemic. Critical equipment such as gloves, gowns/aprons, masks, and respirators were nearly exhausted as of April 1, 2020.

The mobilization and “permissionless innovation” demonstrated by local, small-scale manufacturers has been phenomenal. Acknowledging that their individual exertions would be insufficient to overcome the shortage of PPE, makerspace facilities and informal volunteer networks across the nation began self-organizing to produce and distribute whatever their equipment and human resources would allow. The efforts have often been performed despite the threat to the financial futures of local manufacturers, nonprofit makerspaces, and associated volunteers. Their collaborative energies also demonstrated an ability to infuse agility in the PPE supply chain that was shown to be severely vulnerable to just-in-time approaches to manufacturing and off-shore dependencies. Their ability to mobilize networks of volunteers and resources, provide coordination and guidance to suppliers and healthcare organizations, implement production protocols that meet stringent sanitation standards will provide valuable insights regarding post-pandemic industry practices and the revitalization of domestic manufacturing.

This descriptive case study examines the launch, operation, and outcomes of Makers Unite, a collaborative emergency PPE production project spearheaded by Open Works, a 34,000 square feet makerspace in Baltimore, Maryland. Open Works was able to use institutional trust, community collaboration, and Lean Manufacturing practices to produce 28,270 face shields in 56 days, averaging a production rate of 496 per day. The project included six full-time staff members, five temporary part-time staff members, a network of 388 volunteers and their printers, and two partner organizations until its conclusion on June 12, 2020. The study reveals best practices for establishing Lean small-scale manufacturing, developing institutional trust, building community collaboration, and developing a more agile supply chain in healthcare equipment production and other sectors of the economy.

Author's Bios

Ron has been in higher education for 35 years, spending the past 24 years as a faculty member of the Coppin State University (CSU) College of Business where he also served as dean from 2013 until 2017. In 2016, he established a formal relationship between Coppin State University and Open Works Baltimore, a 34K sq. ft makerspace in Baltimore, which is the first relationship of its kind in the nation between a makerspace and a public HBCU. Ron also served as the principal investigator for the 2019 “Turning Makerspaces into Greater Places: An Organizational Assessment and Economic Impact Study of Open Works,” (, one of the first comprehensive assessments and economic impact studies of a makerspace in the nation. He is currently conducting research to develop a trust framework for collaborative economic development, particularly across cultural and geographic divides where historical distrust exists. His unique concept of “ingepreneurship” (inge… as in ingenuity) is described in a 2017 Metropolitan Journal article entitled “Creating a University Driven ‘Ingepreneurial’ Ecosystem in West Baltimore: A Strategy for Rust Belt Revitalization.” Ron holds a Ph.D. in management and organization from George Washington University with a concentration in the management of science, technology and innovation, and currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Open Works in Baltimore and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance.

Will Holman is the executive director of Open Works in Baltimore, Maryland and a sought-after expert regarding design and makerspaces. His publications include Guerilla Furniture Design: How to Build Lean, Modern Furniture with Salvaged Materials, “How a Baltimore makerspace is encouraging trust between local residents, businesses, and institutions” in the Brookings Institution’s Placemaking Postcards Series, “Makerspaces and the Future of Work” in Taking Action: Positioning Low-Income Workers to Succeed in a Changing Economy” edited by the Hatcher Group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Alternatives to the Atelier: Makerspaces and Design Education” in Design School: After Boundaries and Disciplines edited by Paul A. Rodgers and Craig Bremner, the Make Magazine “Made in Baltimore Series,” and many more. His speaking engagements include conferences, panels, expert testimony, and other events across the nation.

Prior to his role at Open Works, Will worked as an architectural designer, carpenter, artist's assistant, cabinetmaker, furniture designer, and educator. He lives in an old house in Baltimore with his wife Amanda and daughter Annie. His primary interest is in expanding access to the means of production through writing, community development, and open-source design.

Jeff Fuchs has been a lean practitioner for 27 years. His experience includes automotive, aerospace, machining, and energy industries, in roles including plant manager, quality manager, engineering director, and lean champion. He has managed numerous activities in non-profits and government offices designed to improve performance and enhance employee satisfaction. At Neovista Consulting, he now focuses on operational excellence, leadership development, organizational culture, and lean transformation across all industries. For eleven years, Jeff served as Executive Director of a lean consortium helping organizations build cultures of continuous improvement using Lean Thinking techniques. He is a lean trainer, improvement facilitator, leadership coach, and strategic advisor. Jeff has been deeply involved in the national Lean Certification program. He is Bronze and Silver Certified and is working now on his Lean Gold Certification. He is a member of the Lean Certification Oversight Committee jointly managed by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, the Shingo Institute, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and has previously served as the committee’s Chairman. Jeff received his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from West Point. He is a combat veteran of the first Gulf War, and avidly studies team leadership. He is an examiner for both the Shingo Institute’s Shingo Prize and the AME Excellence Award. For four years, Jeff chaired the State of Maryland’s Manufacturing Advisory Commission, and he currently serves on the Board of Directors of Open Works, a Baltimore maker space, community resource, and small business incubator.

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