In March, what was a trickle of patients soon turned into a tsunami of people infected by coronavirus, with numbers rising daily. Healthcare workers quickly ran out of face masks, shields, ventilators and other equipment needed to fight what was turning into a global pandemic.
The additive manufacturing community stepped up to the challenge fast. In a matter of days, nearly every vendor of additive manufacturing equipment, most service providers, and many makers and hobbyists were producing personal protection equipment for health care workers. Everywhere in the world. In a matter of days, supplies of 3D printed equipment reached those that needed them.
The additive community demonstrated how quickly it could ramp up, deal with supply chain issues, and meet a growing need.
In about 3 days, Essentium out of Texas built a special area in its facility to handle the making of protective face masks. The first run of 500 masks was delivered to the Pflugerville Police and Fire Department, followed by many more delivered to the City of Pflugerville’s Pflugerville Community Development Corp.
Students in a number of universities set about using their schools’ 3D printing equipment to print face shields for healthcare workers.
Materialise developed a novel 3D printable solution to a part used to deliver oxygen to patients to help alleviate the ventilator shortage.
Carbon quickly developed 3D printed test swabs to help meet the critical shortage of testing equipment.
Stratasys Ltd. announced a global mobilization of the company’s 3D printing resources and expertise to respond to the pandemic, spanning its Stratasys, GrabCAD, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing and partner network with donated printing capacity across all regions. The initial focus provided thousands of disposable face shields for use by medical personnel.
Australian company SPEE3D is reporting that it is using its 3D deposition technology to deposit anti-microbial copper onto metal surfaces. Laboratory tests have shown that touch surfaces modified with copper material ‘contact kills’ 96% of SARS-CoV-2 (i.e. COVID-19), in just two hours.
Even 3D printing users helped. The engineers at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies’ Morristown and Shelbyville manufacturing facilities used their 3D printers to produce facemask kits with visors.
Open source designs quickly spread through the internet for use by anyone with a 3D printer and plastic material.
And that’s just a small sample of the additive manufacturing community’s efforts.
The pandemic highlights weaknesses in the supply chain for many companies, especially for medical applications. Executives are looking closely at their supply chains and planning how they can be improved given the capabilities the additive industry has demonstrated.
The key skills that the additive industry has shown recently include an amazing amount of cooperation and collaboration.
Pundits and “opinionists” frequently wonder what application will be the one that demonstrates the true value of additive manufacturing. The quick response of this industry to the COVID-19 pandemic may finally demonstrate just how useful additive manufacturing’s ability to make parts fast really is.