3D Printing and COVID-19, April 30, 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.

Because ultraviolet (UV) light can disinfect PPE and UV blood irradiation has been explored for the treatment of some diseases, including COVID-19, U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned the possibility of using UV to treat people against the coronavirus. RadTech North America and the International Ultraviolet Association have warned against the idea of disinfecting the human body with UV light by stating the following:

“We would like to inform the public that there are no protocols to advise or to permit the safe use of UV light directly on the human body at the wavelengths and exposures proven to efficiently kill viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. UV light under the conditions known to kill such viruses are also known to cause severe skin burns, skin cancer, and eye damage. We strongly recommend that anyone using UV light to disinfect medical equipment, surfaces, or air in the context of COVID-19, applications that are supported by sound scientific evidence, follow all recommended health and safety precautions and to avoid direct exposure of the body to the UV light.”

US law firm Arnold & Porter has published an article discussing the legal possibilities of 3D printing supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the firm explains that, due to the declaration of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) and President Trump’s March 18, 2020 executive order invoking the Defense Production Act, liabilities associated with 3D printing medical supplies are “diminished dramatically.” The firm also notes that, while there is a proliferation of open source designs published in response to the crisis, designers and manufacturers should be wary of infringing on the intellectual property rights of some IP holders.

Several European partners are involved in a 3D printing project that could aid in the development of lower cost vaccines, including vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Dubbed NESSIE, the project uses high resolution ceramic 3D printing, provided by Lithoz, to produce chromatographic columns purifying adenoviruses, which can be deployed as vectors for delivering genes or vaccine antigens to humans. The goal of the project is to increase the efficiency with which vaccines are produced. We will be interviewing Lithoz to learn more about the project next week.

Face shields continue to be produced and delivered to healthcare providers. The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing (CfAM) are now producing face shields using 3D printing for local healthcare workers with the goal of delivering 5,000. Based off of HP’s open source design and featuring a PA12 nylon printed strap and laser-cut straps and visor, the face shield has passed BSI testing and is CE approved. The device has been approved to personal protective equipment eye protection technical specifications.

Mobility/Medical Goes Additive is also in the process of delivering 5,000 face shields to Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe, one of the largest aid organizations in Germany, with the help of its large network of manufacturers.

In related news, Boeing has let go of 16,000 employees, with President and CEO Dave Calhoun justifying the decision to dispense with such a large chunk of its workforce with the fact that there has been a 95 percent reduction in passenger air travel. Naturally, this drop in passenger flights has led airlines to delay jet purchases, slowing down delivery schedules and putting off maintenance that, in turn, impacts Boeing’s liquidity.

In turn, Boeing will slow the rate of its 737 MAX production, gradually ramping up production to 31 planes monthly in 2021, reducing 787 production to 10 per month in 2020 and 7 per month by 2022. 777/777X production will be reduced to just 3 per month in 2021.

The decision came after Calhoun himself refused this year’s salary and rewards totaling between $17 and $28 million, as Boeing sought $60 billion in federal aid. The company’s move highlights the inherent issues with non-cooperative modes of production. For instance, the Mondragon Co-Operative Corporation in Spain’s Basque region limits employee displacement by relocating workers from one area of the business to another. Despite some of its other issues, the $13B company was able to weather the 2008 financial crisis. In 2013, Mondragon’s largest manufacturing company went bankrupt, but rather than let go of employees altogether the employee-owners voted to take small pay cuts and relocated 2,000 workers across the larger business group.

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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