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3D Printers Join Arsenal of COVID-19 Weapons

By Richard Adhikari TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 26, 2020 11:33 AM PT
3d printing community is joining forces to help fight coronavirus pandemic

The worldwide 3D printing community is stepping up to alleviate the shortage of medical equipment needed to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Participants include entrepreneurs and hackers, companies in the 3D printing industry, automobile makers, aircraft manufacturers, universities, and even a shipbuilder.

Some are offering free 3D printer files for download and use. Others are designing equipment. Still others are offering to produce medical equipment for the cost of the materials. Some are offering to connect medical and healthcare organizations to 3D printing facilities.

The 3D printing industry has set up a Discord server for members to discuss or organize printing projects to deal with the pandemic.

"There will be a mixture of options, but, at this time, most are trying to assist any way they can," said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"Not everything will be free, but it's good to see a mixture of options," he told TechNewsWorld.

Life-or-Death Difference

In the United States, GM, Ford and Tesla are planning to produce or assist in producing respirators or ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk purchased more than 1,200 ventilators from China, which he is distributing to hospitals.

In other parts of the world, Volkswagen, Nissan, Ferrari and BMW are planning to make medical products using 3D printing.

Aircraft maker Airbus and Spanish state-owned shipbuilder Navantia also are going to 3D print ventilators.

A public spreadsheet enables makers worldwide to crowdsource 3D printing services for components like the oxygen valves.

"I've been watching this for several days now, and it's amazing how these people are stepping up," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

The involvement of companies from outside industries, like auto and aircraft manufacturing, "shows that these industries are willing to step up and address this critical problem themselves rather than sitting back, hoping someone else will," he told TechNewsWorld.

This "will make the difference between life and death to a massive number of people as this pandemic peaks in the United States, and the practices that result could massively reduce the pain of the next pandemic, particularly if the healthcare organizations buy 3D printers and gain the capability to print their supplies," Enderle added.

Many Hands

California-based Airwolf3D has volunteered to 3D print respirator valves and custom medical components for free.

It's also offering remote technical support for medical personnel who want to learn about 3D printing.

The company is charging only for materials at cost, a spokesperson said.

With its large format printer, hotness and heated chambers, Airwolf3D said it can print large parts in engineering-grade materials. It also can manage complex geometries using water soluble support.

The company extrudes its own filament and has an unlimited supply of ABS material, according to the spokesperson.

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a thermoplastic polymer used in injection molding applications.

Airwolf3D said it can produce thousands of units.

Airwolf3D is working with Scripps Health and the University of California at Irvine to fulfill emergency orders for medical equipment.

Smile Direct Club, a teledentistry company, is offering to turn out medical equipment on demand with its more than 60 HP 3D printers.

It's devoting almost all of the capacity to this effort, said Dan Baker, global head, supply chain.

The company can print, assemble and ship more than 7,500 face shields a day and "will begin shipping them shortly," he told TechNewsWorld.

Smile Direct Club also will produce test kit swabs and the replaceable Lowell Makes mask respirator, as soon as it is validated as an alternative to the N95 mask. It will print, assemble and ship the masks nationwide once validation is received.

Barcelona, Spain-based BCN3D will use its 63 3D printers to undertake scientifically validated safe projects to combat the worldwide medical device shortage. People with ideas can contact it at covid19help@bcn3d.com.

China-based architectural 3D printing company Winsun has dispatched 15 3D printed quarantine rooms to Xianning Central Hospital in Hubei Province, just outside Wuhan. Made from urban construction waste, the rooms have their own water and electricity.

A consortium led by Spain's Leitat Technology Center, which includes HP, Navantia, and Airbus, has developed a respirator with 3D printable parts. The device alreadyhas been tested in two hospitals using an artificial lung.

Meanwhile, 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys is making 5,000 3D printed full-face shields for healthcare workers, and said the job will be completed Friday.

Stratasys also is offering help in other areas to battle the pandemic.

3D printer manufacturer Roboze is printing 100 respirator valves for free, and has pledged to continue supporting requests for critical medical device components at no charge.

iMakr, a 3D printing reseller, has donated its first run of 3D-printed face shields from its new printing farm in New York to St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

Free PPE Face Shield Designs

The Global Center for Medical Innovation on Tuesday published free design files for those who want to produce face shields for healthcare providers.

They had been downloaded 45 times by Wednesday, by "small private businesses, to large publicly traded companies, to large government sectors actively engaged in fighting COVID-19," said GCMI Medical Affairs Liaison Emily Blum, M.D.

GCMI is collaborating with the Georgia Institute of Technology to make prototype face shields that are awaiting regulatory approval.

Manufacturers have offered to make GCMI "anywhere from 2,000 face shield units up to 100,000 per day," Blum told TechNewsWorld. The ultimate production goal is "well over a million face shields a month," at which point GCMI can request special funding for full execution into the market.

GCMI is looking at all options for distribution -- free and paid-for.

"More than ever, we need people and industries come together to deal with the situation at hand so that we can put it behind us quickly," Tirias' McGregor said. "I fear that without a nationwide plan, countries -- especially the U.S. -- are at risk."


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.


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Smartphone cameras, by holding people accountable.
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Facebook, by spreading fake news.
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