3D Printing Community Rallies to Meet Demand
As the world struggles with the COVID-19 Pandemic and economic downturn, a group of technology companies has come together to address one of the most urgent needs.
The 3D printing community has worked together to create much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers and first responders. It’s a powerful testament to the power of the global community and the growth of the 3D printing industry in recent years.
The many grassroots efforts have rallied professional 3D printers, schools, and hobbyists to join in the effort. A quick Google search reveals dozens of stories about local printers creating various PPE items, including face shields, medical face mask parts, and ear savers that reduce pressure on ears from mask straps.
“People across the country are running 3D printers around the clock. In basements, workshops, bedrooms, and garages, the web is filled with pictures of individuals churning out personal protective equipment desperately needed by medical professionals on the front lines of a public health catastrophe,” noted a recent Bloomberg article.
Bloomberg reported there are about 870,000 3D printers in the United States.
How Are Companies Organizing 3D Printing Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Companies and professional organizations around the globe are organizing efforts internally and with partners to create supplies of critical PPE to address shortages. Here are several examples.
Stratasys has organized a face shield campaign that had, by early May, generated 100,000 shields for health care providers. It also has forms where organizations can request needed 3D supplies and medical nasopharyngeal testing swabs. It’s also made available face shield frame files for free.
3D Systems is working to produce PPE and ventilator parts. Like others in the industry, it has offered its services to support supply chain gaps. In recent weeks, it has released build files for face masks, face shields, swabs, and ventilator parts.
Universities are using multiple approaches to address the crisis. Syracuse University alumni and faculty collaborated on a project to produce face shields, using its alumni network to gain expertise and access to materials.
Architectural firms throughout the United Kingdom have joined together to make face visors and plastic headsets to National Health Service standards. The firms have created an open-source pattern for the headsets. Once printed, the headsets are sterilized and sent to distribution hubs for use in hospitals with the most significant equipment needs. The consortium of 20 firms can produce more than 4,000 visors per week with plans to grow the project to 35,000 per week.
Are There Any Limitations to Using 3D Technology for PPE Supplies?
While 3D printing is a powerful way to address critical shortages in medical supplies, there are limitations. For example, the technology can only produce some ventilator components. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved many of the applications now in use. While the agency supports the use of 3D printing if original supplies are unavailable, the FDA warned that those versions might not be as safe as traditionally made equipment.
With little explicit guidance from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3D printers are on their own. That’s led to the collaboration, sharing, and creativity behind these group efforts. Lengthy approval processes for medical devices could slow progress in getting much-needed supplies to those in need during these challenging times.
“What I like is that these are efforts being done at the grassroots,” noted Luis Alvarez, CEO of the Alvarez Technology Group. “These are groups that connected online that said to themselves, ‘Hey, we have a part to play in providing components and helping replace worn-out parts.'”
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