PITTSFIELD — In the lead-up to the Feb. 28 opening of the Berkshire Innovation Center, crews rolled in a state-of-the art 3D printer.
The large-format machine, known as the "Big Rep Pro," was meant to provide prototype and training opportunities to all BIC member organizations.
But, in the days that followed, as the coronavirus swept across the state and the nation, BIC officials also have found themselves brainstorming ways to use the machine to help first responders and hospital staff.
BIC Executive Director Ben Sosne noted the the $13.8 million business incubator and training facility was built to accelerate the research and development for companies on-site and off-site.
"We're committed to carrying out our mission and work with manufacturers to bring products out quicker," he said.
Recently, Pittsfield Fire Chief Thomas Sammons asked the BIC's staff about reverse engineering a commercial face mask adapter so it can use off-the-shelf P100, P95 and N95 filter cartridges to protect firefighters responding to COVID-19 emergency calls.
The project remains a work in progress, but the 3D printer will come into play as it is "well-suited for 90 percent of current multipart mask adapter assembly," according to the BIC website.
"If we can help them out, this would be tremendous," Sosne said. "This is a great example of how we can bring something forward much faster [than usual]."
The BIC also has delivered to Berkshire Health Systems, parent of Berkshire Medical Center, 25 sample venturi respirator valves created by the 3D printer and other materials for use with medical equipment.
BHS engineers have been exploring how adaptable the parts are to their patient ventilator equipment, but so far, parts weren't "compatible" with the hospital ventilators.
"We greatly appreciate their efforts and are grateful to have BIC in our community working toward such solutions," said BHS spokesman Michael Leary.
Nevertheless, Sosne says the 3D printer is an example of how the BIC can help companies on the cutting edge of the latest technology.
"The highest value of what we do is use our equipment to move something like masks and shields," he said.
The future of field hospitals — like those set up at the DCU Center in Worcester, and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center — to ease the crunch of COVID-19 patients might rest with a cardboardlike material with the strength of 5.6 tons per square foot.
Xanita Board is a flat sheet of building material similar to corrugated cardboard that can be cut to design, creating room dividers and patient beds.
Mohawk Fine Papers of Cohoes, N.Y., is the sole U.S. distributor of the engineered fiberboard manufactured by a startup firm Xanita in Cape Town, South Africa.
"We had hoped Xanita could assist with capacity needs during this crisis; we just didn't know how or what that would ultimately look like," Rowan Maher, chief marketing officer at Xanita, said in prepared remarks. "When Mohawk reached out for assistance, we jumped at the opportunity to help."
Mohawk, which bought Crane Stationery in North Adams two years ago, teamed up with DataFlow of Binghamton, N.Y., to design and precut the Xanita Board, which easily can be assembled on-site — without tools, according to Mohawk officials.
"We went from idea to design to prototype in one week," said Tommy O'Connor, a vice president with Mohawk. "Then, our first call was to the BIC. They have been tremendously helpful in helping us make connections on the state level."
O'Connor said several health care businesses have shown interest in the product, but he isn't sure it will be pressed into service right away.
"We have quotes out; we've generated interest," he said.
Nevertheless, Xanita can be another tool for future use if field hospitals are needed after a natural disaster, during another health crisis or for some other emergency situation.
Xanita is lightweight, recyclable and easy to ship.
"You literally can lift it yourself and unload it off a truck," Sosne said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.