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Press Release

Release Date: August 18, 2020

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office



  • A completed shield is ready for installation.

  • The CNC router precisely cuts materials to construct plastic protective barriers for Chickasaw Nation facilities.

Safety for employees and visitors has been the first priority of the Chickasaw Nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. As protective measures have been enacted, plastic barriers to protect against the spread of COVID-19 were needed in facilities where staff works closely with the public.

Mark Factor, director of property and facilities, was tasked with preparing buildings with protective barriers. His team began to research the cost of pre-fabricated shields. Senior manager Joe Johnson quickly realized the product was costly, and proposed an alternative.

As tribal facilities prepared for reopening, more plastic barriers were needed. Johnson decided to explore in-house resources for building the shields in order to save money.

“I knew there was a way to work with technology that the STEM Academy program already possessed,” said Johnson. “I thought, I think we can make these.”

He researched the materials and equipment needed to fabricate the barriers and presented his findings to Factor, who was on board.

Johnson worked with Luke Kerr, STEM program manager, who is skilled in the computer-aided design (CAD) software needed to program a machine to cut the plastic shields. The STEM Academy shop was already equipped with the software and machine needed to create a prototype of the shield design.

“We typically use this machine to teach our students how to apply their math, programming and CAD skills to create tangible parts for hands-on learning, robotics, and in this case, sneeze guards,” said Kerr.

Kerr created a prototype of the design requested by maintenance by programming CAD software and a cutting device called a CNC (computer numerical control) router, normally used for robotics at the STEM Academy.

A CNC machine can be programmed to automate machining tools (such as drills) and 3-D printers with CAD programming, making precision and replication of pieces possible. To create the plastic shields, a piece of plastic is cut to meet design specifications by following a coded program, therefore eliminating the need for manual cutting.

Once the prototype was created, the group discovered they would need a bigger CNC router to cut pieces large enough to meet safety standards.

“We used our in-house CAD software and CNC router at the STEM Academy to make a prototype barrier for approval. We took this basic design, and then recreated it with locally sourced material,” said Kerr.

“To help minimize the return time we reached out to Jimmy Koonce and his team at the cabinet shop. They have a similar, but much larger, machine that cut our production time down by 75%,” he said.

More than 520 plastic shields have been built in-house by maintenance department and cabinet shop staff using Kerr’s design code, and more are in production. Through tribal resources, and the unique and diverse skills of employees, the Chickasaw Nation saved thousands of dollars and created safe environments for employees and guests.

“Not only did we benefit from the cost savings, but it allowed us the control to handle everything in-house, which sped up the implementation process,” said Kerr.