Canadian driver Petko Ganachev didn’t expect to be on the front lines in a battle against a worldwide pandemic, and certainly never imagined he’d be pulling double duty.
A truck driver in British Columbia for 10 years, Ganachev is now employing the full spectrum of his talents, having created a 3D printing group that is answering the call and making face shields and mask straps to help ease shortages across the country in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I never expected me to be at the center of this, because I was waiting for somebody else to start it so I could just join with my one printer,” said Ganachev. “All we’re doing this for is to fill that short-term gap before industry can catch up to the trend.”
Ganachev started the B.C. COVID-19 3D Printing Group from a conversation he began on the social media site Reddit with a person whose partner worked in a care home. The person was looking for someone who could make face shields for the home, which was experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.
Ganachev, who describes himself as a 3D printing hobbyist over the past four years, stepped up, and after just one week, formed and grew the 3D printing group to over 300 volunteers, including around 110 who could print the face shields and mask straps.
Using laminating sheets donated by Staples, the group had delivered 1,554 face shields and 3,686 mask straps, as of April 6.
The number of shields and straps being produced by the group is even more staggering. With a current inventory of 1,811 face shields, 5,720 more are in production for this week. There is also an inventory of 2,446 straps, with another 10,493 in production.
“We can print about two of them every hour, per printer,” said Ganachev, adding that they don’t have an accurate count on how many printers they have, as some people have more than one 3D printer in use.
There is also an alternative face shield design, one that is approved for use in hospitals, that takes one to two hours to complete, depending on the type of 3D printer being used.
Those who are printing do so out of their homes, and once complete, the shields and straps are picked up by a courier service and shipped to where they are needed.
Initially, Ganachev used volunteers to pick up the shields and straps, but quickly outgrew the method because of growing demand.
He is also hoping to bring another company on board to help with delivery of the items, but has been unsuccessful so far.
Soon after its launch, the group partnered with LNG Studios, which has offices in Vancouver, Toronto, and San Francisco, and produces 3D architectural visualizations, among other projects.
LNG started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the production of face shields, and eventually combined its efforts with the B.C. COVID-19 3D Printing Group.
“They have the money and we have the people with the 3D printers and the organization to produce things, and it’s been a fantastic partnership that has worked out great,” said Ganachev. “What we want to do as a group and what they wanted to do when they started the GoFundMe campaign matched up perfect.”
Ganachev’s group will soon be launching its own fundraising campaign separate from its LNG partnership to continue raising money for the production of face shields and straps.
Keep on Truckin’
Through this new 3D printing venture, Ganachev continues to drive for Ken Johnson Trucking.
Having started with Ken Johnson when he was 20 years old, Ganachev said as the 3D printing group has grown, it has become easier for him to juggle both responsibilities.
“We’ve got a fairly big leadership group, and lots of knowledgeable people, so I don’t have to babysit it all the time anymore,” he said. “We’re about as organized as a manufacturing company would be. Maybe a little bit less, but we’re doing pretty good for being a week into it.”
Ganachev’s road to becoming a truck driver was not an easy one.
“I’ve always enjoyed driving, even back then, and my roommate was a truck driver at that point in time and I saw how good he was doing,” Ganachev explained. “The real root cause of (me driving) was I got hit head-on on my way to work. Before that, I was working as a mechanic, and due to that injury, I decided that I couldn’t be a mechanic anymore, bent over cars, and moved into truck driving.”
He also feels fortunate that he landed his first driving job with Ken Johnson.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere else I could have got as a first job and got better training and better mentorship,” he said. “I got really lucky with that…if I had started with one of the not-so-nice companies that we have in our industry, I probably wouldn’t be a truck driver anymore.”
Ken Johnson, general manager of Ken Johnson Trucking, remembers when a shy, inexperienced Ganachev walked into his office looking for a job.
“He came to us as a novice driver, couldn’t even go in to the U.S., as he was only 20,” said Johnson. “We put him through our training and mentoring and has now become one of our top drivers, and is now a trainer himself. He was quite shy when he started, still is in person to a certain extent, until he gets to know you.”
Ganachev called Johnson while he was in 14-day isolation after returning from vacation to tell him about his 3D printing idea.
“I guess he had lots of time to think,” said Johnson, who thought the idea was worth looking into. “I told him we’d assist where we could. Initiatives, such as (Ganachev’s), are all beneficial. People wanting to help others.”
Johnson’s company has seen its share of side-effects with the COVID-19 crisis, both from a business perspective and day-to-day as a close-knit, family operation.
“We are a small company, and having to limit the interaction between drivers and staff, and to separate our staff, some now in separate offices or working from home, has affected the dynamics in our office,” he said. “We have become, out of necessity, very sterile, both physically and socially, with much less conversation and joking between everyone. I miss the family atmosphere of ‘sibling’ relations.”
On the business side, Ken Johnson Trucking, a tanker company, has seen a slowdown, but being diversified has helped, as some segments have not been as negatively impacted as others.
Ganachev says once this COVID-19 crisis is over, there could be other initiatives the B.C. COVID-19 3D Printing Group could venture into, though at this point, that is the furthest thing from his mind.
Johnson commends the work of his young driver, and said efforts like Ganachev’s are needed now more than ever, as they show how the trucking industry has responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The #ThankATrucker campaign is another way of people helping people,” said Johnson. “In this case it’s more moral support, but hopefully it builds momentum and restaurants and stores realize they need to help our people so our people can help them.”
You can learn more about the B.C. COVID-19 3D Printing Group here.
Derek Clouthier is a writer for Trucknews.com, be the editors of Today's Trucking, where this article first appeared. It is used with permission via an editoriarial cooperative effort between Heavy Duty Trucking and Newcom Business Media.