3D Printing and COVID-19, April 28, 2020 Update


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Companies, organizations and individuals continue to attempt to lend support to the COVID-19 pandemic supply effort. We will be providing regular updates about these initiatives where necessary in an attempt to ensure that the 3D printing community is aware of what is being done, what can be done and what shouldn’t be done to provide coronavirus aid.

A German firm called LMD Innovation GmbH is 3D printing protective face masks using LUVOSINT TPU from the LEHVOSS Group that meets Europe’s FFP2 and FFP3 filtering standards. FFP2 and FFP3 ratings designate masks that filter at least 94 and 99 percent of particulates, respectively, which can be compared to N95 and N99 standards representing filtration of 95 percent and 99 percent of particulates in the U.S. LMD’s 3D-printed masks fit tightly to the face, as required, and filters can be swapped out. Most interestingly, the masks can be cleaned in the dishwasher. Like WASP’s 3D-printed face mask, these can be tailored to a user’s face using a smartphone app. Unlike WASP’s mask, this device has been certified by the FDA, with the laser sintered TPU capable of meeting the necessary requirements. Once a user’s face is scanned, LMD manufactures the mask to fit.

A 3D-printed face mask made by LMD Innovation using LUVOSINT TPU. Image courtesy of LEHVOSS Group.

In South Africa, everyone’s favorite large-scale 3D printer manufacturer, Hans Fouche, has turned the attention of his business, Fouche 3D Printing, to manufacture face shields. After working with a local medical company, the company has teamed with a community-focused maker company called contact Railways Cafe to ramp up face shield production to 500 shields a day, with Fouche’s three Cheetah 3D printers making the brackets and then Railways assembling the complete shields. In total, the partners have manufactured about 4,500 shields that have gone to various institutions in the region. South African 3D printer users are asked to join the 3D Printing South Africa Facebook group to lend their support.

3D-printed brackets for face shields made by Fouche 3D Printing. Image courtesy of Fouche 3D Printing.

Robotics manufacturer Festo and nonprofit innovation group MassRobotics have partnered for general collaboration, with Festo supporting entrepreneurs and academia associated with MassroRobotics in bringing automation and robotic products to market. Among the projects that the non-profit is involved in is the Ventilator Project, founded by entrepreneurs at MassRobotics, who have designed and are seeking FDA approval for a low-cost ventilator. The device was designed with the help of a RIZE 3D printer, donated by Festo to the innovation hub.

Festo donating a RIZE 3D printer to MassRobotics. Image courtesy of Festo Robotics.

Other efforts include an interactive map tool from 3D printing cloud service Astroprint, regional coordinators of 3D printer owners can use to facilitate the production and distribution of 3D printed medical supplies. With 300 people onboard, over 3,000 parts have been made and sent to hospitals, according to the company.

A low-cost ventilator being developed by The Ventilator Project. Image courtesy of the Ventilator Project.

This includes healthcare providers in the Navajo Nation, which has the third highest rate of infection in the U.S., aside from New York and New Jersey, if you don’t count the U.S. prison system. 40 percent of families within the Navajo territories live below the Federal poverty line and healthcare providers are finding it difficult to source personal protection equipment. Members of the Astroprint cluster have been able to leverage the service in their efforts to provide PPE to the depleted nation.

Michigan Technological University’s open-source 3D printing guru, Joshua Pearce, has put out a paper evaluating the state-of-the-art for open hardware designs needed for pandemics like the one we are currently experiencing. Examining the top 20 technologies requested by the Government of India, Pearce found that only 15 percent of the supporting technologies enabling open source development were freely available. The paper argues that, in order to provide open source methods for developing medical hardware in the result of a pandemic, five specific actions need to be taken:

  1. A broad range of open source solutions for all medical supplies and devices need to be developed technically
  2. Policies protecting the productivity of labs, makerspaces and production facilities during pandemics should be implemented
  3. Medical device regulation should be streamlined
  4. Good Samaritan laws to protect makers and designers of open source medical hardware should be developed, which would drive those with the necessary medical hardware knowledge to share it freely
  5. All public research should be released freely under open source licenses

Pearce is a longtime advocate of open source design, with compelling arguments about the need for limiting patents for technology that is in the best interest of the public. He has previously argued in favor of opening up solar power technologies in order to drive down costs and increase innovation in renewable energy development, which is certainly necessary in order to more quickly address the ongoing climate crisis. In fact, representatives of developing nations have urged post-industrial nations, who are largely responsible for historic greenhouse gas emissions, to make their renewable energy technology publicly available so that they can achieve developmental growth sustainably.

Though our climate emergency may not feel as immediate, given the long timeframe and sporadic nature of the effects of global warming, the current medical crisis provides much more palpable impacts. In turn, the need for open source technology is felt that much more strongly. Given the inability to manufacture at the necessary scale to address the medical supply shortages, ventilator manufacturer Medtronic was compelled to make its designs open source. Hopefully, this company can act as a model for other manufacturers to embrace an open source model to ensure that the world is ready for the next pandemic, which could be further COVID-19 outbreaks or other illnesses generated as a result of climate change or the ongoing bioweapons arms race.

As the pandemic continues to grip the world, we will continue to provide regular updates about what the 3D printing community is doing in response. As always, it is important to keep safety in mindremain critical about the potential marketing and financial interests behind seemingly good humanitarian efforts from businesses, and to do no harm.

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