If there's ever a time that 3D printing can be instrumental for the goodness of the world, that time might be right now in the wake of arguably the greatest pandemic of our lifetime, the coronavirus. It might save the day in terms of one of the mitigating pieces of equipment required to protect from the virus: face masks.
Today, these masks are at the top of the news. They're in short supply and required by all who are involved in health care. Rightly so, this involvement isn’t just those who are treating virus victims, but also people who will be testing, treating, or transporting anybody who's infected. Additionally, those in high-risk groups also are wearing the masks.
Consequently, it's generated a wide-scale shortage and a supply chain that simply isn't able to support the demand.
This is where 3D printing can be quite instrumental. Many world innovators are coming together with their ingenuity to harness their capabilities in creating masks that can be made with a 3D printer for reasonable cost and in record time.
The Collaboration of 3D Printers Around the World
Many of those experienced with 3D printers are rising to the occasion to help. A New York man who runs a 3D printing shop in Staten Island, New York, put his printers to work to make plastic face shields. He said he could produce 4,000 shields per day.
A hospital in the U.K. turned to a 3D printing firm in the U.S. for help. A Lexington, Kentucky company that uses three-dimensional scanning for industrial applications has helped the University of Kentucky HealthCare make custom and much-needed masks using 3D printing that the University helped design. They are using facial scans to make precise masks.
Elsewhere, in Israel, new ventilator masks protect the entire face from the coronavirus. These masks are a bit different from the disposable ones that we're used to seeing; however they are effective and able to block viral particles from being ingested by human beings. They may require further sanitization as the viral particles could reside on the outside surface of the mask.
Nonetheless, they are a first step to a solution to a supply chain collapse in providing masks to those needing them around the world. Because they are a solid mask, a prototype was able to be developed using 3D and quickly tested so that it might be produced more rapidly.
It's also thought that the masks can be produced solely using 3D printing; therefore, they can manufacture thousands of units a day with the proper feed stock and with a 3D printer of appropriate speed.
Calling on the 3D Printing Community
Now, more than ever, the creativity and innovation of the 3D printing community is needed for open source efforts. Stratasys, for example, has teamed up to support the CoVent-19 Challenge, which is an open innovation effort hosted by residents from Massachusetts General Hospital.
The goal of the challenge is to design a rapidly deployable mechanical ventilator for this and future pandemics. This challenge invites millions of designers and engineers. Learn more about this GrabCAD Challenge.
In addition, Stratasys is also rapidly scaling its efforts to print both re-usable and disposable face shields on dozens of FDM 3D printers. These shields have FDM 3D printed frames, with clear, full-face plastic shielding. You can download the face shield model right from GrabCAD!
The Remarkable Value of 3D Printing During a Time of Crisis
If there's anything to be learned from all this, it's the value of 3D printing in times of crisis. 3D printing could feasibly produce face shields as personal protective equipment for many different stakeholders who are combating a further spread of the coronavirus.
It can also enable the production of a face shield that heretofore was thought to be very hard to create given the specifications and time constraints. Now it isn't impossible to produce and fabricate, thanks to the ingenuity of 3D printing.
Further, at a minimum, a 3D printed face shield allows fabricators to develop a prototype that can be tested quickly so that mass-produced shields may be speeded along the product development life cycle curve, especially in times of a health pandemic.
How You Can Help!
Want to get involved? If you run a 3D printing shop or service bureau with the capacity to help 3D print critical supplies and prototypes, join Stratasys' efforts in 3D printing face shields! If you're a designer or engineer with the knowledge to aid in the Co-Vent-19 challenge, submit your entries here!