Eastman team members step up in fight against COVID-19

Mark Ewing bought a 3D printer last year to print miniature figurines for games that he plays. After buying the printer —which excels at highly detailed, but fragile figures — he bought a second one to make more physically strong, but less detailed, objects.

Little did he know then what role that printer would play in the fight against COVID-19.

While Eastman team members around the world — working both on-site and from their homes — have kept the company's plants running safely and have maintained business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic, they've also stepped up to help support frontline healthcare workers — donating their time and sometimes their own money in the cause.

In March, Mark, Eastman's digital corporate technology manager in Kingsport, Tenn., started seeing a lot of chatter around ear savers on social media.

"I didn't think too much about it because the Tri-Cities wasn't impacted too much, but in early April it became apparent that the lack of the virus here didn't mean nurses and others weren't wearing masks all day to be safe."

After learning how uncomfortable it can be to wear a mask for a 12-hour hospital shift, Mark printed a few ear savers — small plastic devices that latch the elastic bands of a mask across the back of the head, rather than over the ears — then reached out to see if anyone locally needed them.

"I was surprised at how many people wanted them, so I threw together a website (earsaverproject.com) over a weekend to help collect demand," he explains.

Marvin Wilson, an Eastman machinist, was moved by pictures of healthcare providers on the frontline of the pandemic.

"Some of the pictures of these people influenced me drastically," he says. "I couldn't imagine wearing a mask for 12 to 16 hours a day and experiencing the pain these people have had to endure while helping others. This is true dedication. I feel fortunate to be able to help in some small way. Volunteering benefits everyone in a community and helps empower others. We all win."

Also at the Kingsport site, Eastman Polymer Technology Division operators Jill Cline and Patsy Barton helped with an initiative to collaborate with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and various state universities to help produce face shields for medical personnel in the state capital of Nashville.

THEC coordinated the effort to make 10,000 face shields in two weeks using 3D printers at universities throughout Tennessee. Austin Peay State University, located near Nashville, had purchased acetate sheet from Hobby Lobby stores to produce the shields that provide a safe barrier from infection when treating patients with COVID-19. But the project slowed when the supply of acetate sheet dried up.

That's when Eastman was called into action.

"Patsy and I were informed about Eastman's role in donating materials for face shields when we arrived at work on Monday morning [March 23]," Jill explains. "The need was a pretty standard request with material that we keep on hand, so it was a relatively easy shift from what was scheduled for that day to making the material to be donated. We were able to extrude rolls of material for that entire week and prepare them for shipment to another company that cut them into face shields."

By March 25, Eastman had donated enough rolls of PETG film, a copolyester commonly used for rigid medical packaging and medical devices, to produce the 10,000 face shields.

"Knowing the positive impact we could make at such a critical point in fighting COVID-19, we were honored and proud to use our abilities to help in any way that we could," Jill says. "It has been a positive experience, and we wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again."

After making an initial batch of ear savers on his printer, Mark Ewing shared his project on Microsoft Teams and other Eastman team members — including Travis Deel and Jeff Johnson — stepped up to help. Not only has Travis printed ear savers, he's also printed face shields using a model he found on the National Institute of Health's website.

"My mom, a nurse at our local health department, expressed a need for face shields due to the shortage of PPE early on in the crisis," explains Travis, an advanced systems analyst. "It gave me a great sense of joy to provide lifesaving protective equipment and provide relief for healthcare workers at no cost to them."

 As of May 2020, ten people had contributed — out of their own pockets — the plastic filament, shipping costs, their printers, and their time/expertise to deliver approximately $12,000 worth of ear savers to more than 100 different hospitals and medical offices in 17 states.

"I just wanted to be able to do something to help during this pandemic. Since I am not a medical professional, there is not much I can do on that front," says volunteer Jeff Johnson, a senior systems analyst. "These people are putting their lives on the line every single day. I am thankful for them and all they do and am glad I could do something to help them out."

The Ear Saver Project is proactive in reaching out to medical providers and others and continues to identify needs. In May, Mark shipped 500 ear savers to Eastman's Texas Operations. In early June, he shipped 2,000 ear savers to Cookeville. He's working to get a shipment of 300 to Eastman's site in Kuantan, Malaysia.

"The experience has been a great example of how a hobby … can be leveraged for social good during a crisis," Mark says.

Since March, Eastman has:

  • Donated copolyester resins to PRP Creation as part of an effort by cosmetics companies to produce 475,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for health organizations in France. The effort supplied French hospitals with approximately 190,000 liters of disinfectant, enough to cover 12 working days.
  • Collaborated with Rotuba to produce protective face shields for medical personnel on the frontlines of the pandemic. Rotuba used Eastman cellulose acetate to create 75,000–100,000 splash guards per week.
  • Donated 3,000 square-meters of material to ETC, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of lighting and rigging technology. ETC began manufacturing face shields in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to deliver thousands of shields locally and nationally.

Mark Ewing, Eastman's digital corporate
technology manager in Kingsport, Tenn.,
with some of the 10,000 ear savers he and
other team members printed for healthcare
workers across the nation.


Mark Ewing, Eastman’s digital corporate technology manager
in Kingsport, Tenn., used his personal 3D printer
to print ear savers  for healthcare workers across the nation.
Travis Deel, Eastman systems analyst

in Kingsport, Tenn., joined the Ear Saver
Project and printed both ear savers
and face shields for healthcare workers.


Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally
expressed his appreciation to Mark and
Amy Ewing for providing ear savers to
healthcare workers across the state.

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