The global coronavirus pandemic has tested the capacity of healthcare systems all over the world, and we’ve very suddenly found ourselves desperately short on protective masks for healthcare workers. Many hospitals have resorted to sterilizing and re-using facemasks or asking for donations online to make up the shortage. However, this crisis has inspired an unlikely solution, known as “distributed manufacturing,” in which people with 3D printers all over the world have stepped up to make life saving hospital supplies.
3D printers have had the most success in producing face shields. A face shield is simply a sheet of clear plastic covering the health care worker’s face and looks kind of like a plastic version of a welder’s mask. These shields are worn over the breathable face masks that cover a healthcare worker’s mouth and nose. These shields are critical right now, because the coronavirus spreads through water droplets discharged by coughing or sneezing. The face shield protects the face mask from fluids, allowing it to be re-used. While many essential medical devices are too complex for 3D printing technology as it currently, stands, the face shield’s simplicity makes it a perfect candidate for home production.
Who is making 3D printed face shields?
3D printers all over the world have stepped up and begun trying to fill in the need. A Czech entrepreneur by the name Josef Prusa has uploaded some of the first designs for 3D printed face shields, which have since been downloaded more than 40,000 times. Prusa is the founder a of 3D printing company (also named Prusa), which is currently manufacturing over 10,000 3D printed face shields for the Czech Republic’s Ministry of health.
Many US companies are also stepping up to address the crisis. HP has reached out to customers who bought 3D printers to deputize their manufacturing capabilities and has also publicly released downloadable plans for other hospital equipment, such as hands-free door openers to slow the infection rate among hospital staff. Carbon, a 3D printing startup, has followed suit and reached out to its customers with 3D printers. You can also download their design. The company is currently working on 3D printing designs for nasal swabs to collect samples, another critical piece of medical equipment in short supply.
Because the plans are open source instead of patented, many small businesses and individuals with home 3D printers have been able to answer the call. The Youtuber “3D Printing Nerd” has just uploaded a video in which his product is tested and reviewed (positively) by a local healthcare worker. In Baltimore, 3D printers have formed an online group called “We the Builders”, and in Tampa Bay, a furniture maker and a fine arts professor have teamed up to start producing masks, joining a global effort to outfit hospitals with sorely needed necessities.
3D Printing Face Shields and YOU CAN TOO!