Vermont SportsCar Shifts Production to Medical Faceshields

MILTON, Vt. (WCAX) Lance Smith founded what is now Vermont Sportscar in 1988.

"My passion was rallying, and over the years, I took it from basically an auto restoration company and part time rally firm to a full-time factory rally team," Smith said.

About a decade later, they linked up with the brand that produces what some people call "the Official Car of the state of Vermont

"This is Suburu's largest motorsports program in the world right now," Smith said."

At their brand new facility in Milton, Vermont Sportscar takes Subaru WRX STI's and completely redesigns them for Rallycar and Rallycross competitions around the world...from the rollcages to the electrical systems, and especially the most important part

"We design everything in our engines from the ground up," said John Birkheimer, an Engine Design Engineer for Vermont SportsCar.

"Designing an engine in house and actually producing it is a monumental achievement for a small company," Smith added.

If you've ever worked on cars you know that sometimes you have to order parts and it can take a while from them to arrive. For specialized race engines, it might take weeks and slow everything else down. But Vermont Sportscar has a secret weapon: a 3D printer.

"By printing the part, we're able to put that in the engine bay and see if the technicians can work around it," Birkheimer said. "It may fit but they're like 'Hey, we can't get to this hardware.' So it's really nice to be able to get these parts in underneath the hood of the car and see exactly how they interact with each other."

Now as you might expect, the coronavirus has put the rallying and rallycross seasons on hold

"We had two fully-prepared cars loaded and ready to leave to an event on the West Coast and it was canceled," Smith said. "The impact's been severe to the business. We just stopped."

With their normal operations shut down, Vermont Sportscar didn't have much use for its 3D printer...until the company they bought it from, Stratysys, reached out with an idea

"They let us know like 'Hey, this is what we're looking at doing, are you guys willing to contribute?'" Birkheimer said. "And there was no question, we jumped right on it." 

So they fired up the printer and got to work, producing the visor component for medical faceshields that have been in short supply at hospitals around the country

"We were able to take their file, instantly send it to our printer and do a test print," Birkheimer said. "From there we can fine tune the print. Once our test prints were done and we were satisfied, then we started doing larger build sheets."

The printer runs 24/7 and produces about 48 visors per day, which are then shipped out, assembled and distributed to hospitals across the country. It may not seem like a lot, but it adds up, and Vermont Sportscar is glad they can make a difference in the fight against the coronavirus

"We had an asset that was used in motorsports and racing and were able to quickly turn that in to help people and the hospitals and things like that. So inside it's a really good feeling," Smith said.

"We're a race team, but we're a big family," Birkheimer added. "We're part of the community. And to be able to take that and actually giveback to the community, it's a great feeling."

The coalition Vermont Sportscar is a part of has been able to produce more than a hundred thousand face shields so far and the goal is to make 400-thousand. A Vermont company doing its part before they can get back to doing what they do best.