Hospitals around the world are scrambling to secure enough personal protective equipment to safeguard their workers while treating the approaching wave of coronavirus patients. Manufacturers large and small are retooling their production lines to try to fill the gap.

But that still leaves a huge logistical challenge: matching up the right suppliers with the right buyers.

University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers have created an automated online platform to optimize and then facilitate those connections. The project is an outgrowth of the university-industry collaboration that created the Badger Shield, the open-source design for medical face shields that’s now being used by manufacturers around the country, including Ford.

Within a week, the team’s new online system has already helped New York City find a manufacturer to supply the city’s hospitals with millions of shields.

Justin Boutilier, an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at UW-Madison, and Rebecca Alcock, a master’s student in biomedical engineering, are leading the project, in collaboration with Auyon Siddiq, an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management.

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