In 2018, the Center for Disability Services (CFDS), a not-for-profit institution that supports individuals who have disabilities in upstate New York, established the Life Quality Solutions Incubator.

As a research and product development arm of CFDS, the incubator helps fulfill the organization’s mission by developing best practices and new products to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.

Located in Watervliet, New York, the incubator’s prototyping and fabrication facility is staffed by engineers, engineering fellows, and volunteers. The group of individuals who spend time conducting research and developing products aligned to the incubator’s mission includes Rensselaer doctoral students and engineering fellows Elizabeth Capogna, Benjamin Liddle, and Madelyn Stout, as well as Eric Ledet, professor of biomedical engineering, Nicole Zimmer, an undergraduate biomedical engineering student, and William Furst, an MBA student, as volunteers.

As COVID-19 began to spread across the country in March, Albany Medical Center was in desperate need of face shields and put out a call to the local community for help. After making some adjustments to an existing design, the incubator’s staff, fellows, and volunteers were able to meet the need by fabricating 775 face shields in about two weeks.

“The most difficult part of the process was obtaining the raw materials,” said Ledet. “So many people were trying to do the same thing for their local communities that materials were in short supply.”

Like finding toilet paper in stores, some tenacity paid off and all of the materials were obtained in about 10 days. The team then went into production mode while maintaining appropriate social distancing and wearing mandated personal protective equipment.

“Production was tedious but with the incubator team working in concert, we were efficient,” said Capogna. “It was very fulfilling to see the final product go out the door.”

Albany Medical Center expressed appreciation for the effort and recognized the incubator and its staff in a message from its CEO. Now, the incubator continues to serve the local community by creating face shields for dental professionals as well as returning to its main mission of improving the quality of live for individuals with disabilities.