3D Printing and COVID-19, May 2, 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.

Swiss creative agency Atoll, in partnership with Pragma Engineering and 3D printing company Rapid Manufacturing, has designed a device that can be used to remove protective gloves in a way that is less likely to spread contamination. According to one study, almost 50 percent of people contaminate their skin with germs when removing protective clothing.

Atoll’s device is made up of a curved piece of plastic that can be mounted on walls or metal bars over a garbage can using a modular fastening system. Glove wearers are meant to slide the tip of the device between their palms and the cuffs of their gloves. As they pull upward, the gloves fall off and into the bin below. The 3D printable file is located at the Atoll website here.

Members of the AM business community are publishing their quarterly financial results, which include the impacts of the economic slowdown on their finances. Materialise announced its first quarter results, ending March 31, 2020. Renveues dropped 1.8 percent to €46.2 million, from €47.1 million in Q1 2019. Revenue growth continued in its Software (+5 percent, to €9.8 million) and Medical (+15.3 percent to €15.6 million) segments, which was offset by a decrease in its Materialise Manufacturing (-13.9 percent to €20.8 million) segment decreased compared to the same period last year. Executive Chairman Peter Leys commented:

“Fiscal 2020 began with unexpected challenges for businesses worldwide as a result of the COVID-19 virus. Materialise still performed relatively well during the first quarter as sales began to be negatively impacted only towards the end of the quarter. With the subsequent spread of the COVID-19 crisis and the increased disruption to the global economy and normal business operations, we expect the pandemic’s impact to be much more pronounced during at least the second quarter of 2020.”

Leys attributed the shrinkage of the company’s manufacturing division to the impact of the virus outbreak on its ACTech subsidiary, a full-service manufacturer of complex metal parts. Leys said that ACTech is over 80 percent exposed to the automotive industry, compared to its broader manufacturing division which Leys performed “very well, and even in spite of our traditional business also being hit by the COVID crisis towards the end of March actually did better than the first quarter of 2019.”

The NIP mask, developed by Materialise to help treat COVID-19 patients. Image courtesy of Materialise.

Materialise Fried Vancraen noted: “While we do not expect our industry to grow exponentially during this crisis, or shortly thereafter, we are picking up many signals that this crisis, however devastating it may be for those who are personally affected is putting industry 4.0 initiatives in general, and in particular, higher on the agendas.”

Prodways Group of France also reported its financial earnings for the first quarter of 2020, which included an 11 percent decrease in total revenue from Q1 2019 €15.5 million. Revenue generated from design and manufacturing dropped 19.6 percent to €5.6 million from Q1 2019. Software, 3D printers, and related materials and services were down 6.3 percent to €9.8 million.

GE Group revenues dropped 8 percent to $20.5 billion, with total orders decreasing by 5 percent to $19.5 billion. Revenues fell 13 percent in its power and aviation division, which the company naturally associated with the dramatic decline in commercial aerospace caused by the spread of the virus. In turn, CEO Larry Culp, said that the company will be cutting costs:

“We are targeting more than $2 billion in operational cost out and $3 billion of cash preservation to mitigate the financial impact, and we executed a series of actions to de-risk and de-lever our balance sheet amid a challenging environment.”

voxeljet AG received a notice of noncompliance from the New York Stock Exchange due to the fact its average closing price fell below $1.00 per share over 30 consecutive trading days. Due to the pandemic, voxeljet was given an extension to comply with NYSE requirements and has until December 29, 2020, and May 4, 2021, to regain compliance with the $1.00 minimum share price standard and the $50 million market capitalization standard, respectively.

HP Inc.’s net revenue was down 0.6 percent to $14.6 billion compared to last year, according to its earnings report published in February. Protolabs’ revenue actually increased 1.46 percent to $115,108,000. Stratasys has scheduled its Q1 earnings call for May 14. 3D Systems’ call will take place on May 6. SLM Solutions has scheduled its report for May 7.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen Passenger Cars has returned to production, building Golf, Tiguan, Touran and SEAT Tarraco vehicles at the company’s Wolfsburg plant, where VW’s 3D printing center is located. 8,000 employees will work one-shift at a time with reduced contact between one another. About 2,600 suppliers, most of which are in Germany, are also operating to make parts for Volkswagen’s main plant. Roughly 1,400 vehicles are expected to be completed by the end of the first week of resumed production before quantities are increased to over 6,000 in the coming weeks (or about 40 percent of pre-COVID production levels), as multiple shifts are reintroduced.

In order to return to work, the company is instituting a 100-point plan that includes rules related to distancing and hygiene, including home temperature-taking for workers and performing a daily health checklist. Where distances of 1.5 meters are not possible, workers must wear mouth and nose protection. Mobile plexiglass partitions and more handwashing sites have been setup throughout buildings, while conference rooms are converted into office spaces.

As illustrated, businesses globally are being impacted by economic shutdowns. In turn, there may be some potentially positive effects on our ecosystem in the near-term, with the International Energy Agency predicting an 8 percent decrease from last year in global carbon dioxide emissions, the largest recorded drop since the global financial crisis of 2008.

However, IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol warned that this reduction in CO2 should not be celebrated for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the dramatic loss of life and increase in suffering that has resulted from the COVID-19 outbreak. Birol told The New York Times:

“This historic decline in emissions is happening for all the wrong reasons. People are dying and countries are suffering enormous economic trauma right now. The only way to sustainably reduce emissions is not through painful lockdowns, but by putting the right energy and climate policies in place.”

There have been nearly a quarter-of-a-million deaths from COVID-19, including nearly 64,000 in the U.S. alone. Over 26.5 million people in the U.S. applied for unemployment within a medical system of appalling inequality, with potentially 8.9 to 13.9 million locked out of unemployment aid altogether. The toll that the virus and economic hardship has had on individuals highlights the fact that economic degrowth cannot come at the expense of human suffering.

Additionally, such dips in emissions as occurred during the 2008 financial crisis are typically followed by emission booms, as economic activity restarts. Moreover, nations such as the U.S. are using the crisis to relax environmental regulations, which can result in greater emissions and other ecological hazards. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of the human response to the crisis from a global, institutional and individual perspective.

While VW may be able to return to production, we have to wonder about the cost, for instance, on individual workers. Despite the myriad protections in place, what are the assembly line operators exposed to working on the line that the executive class of the corporate group are not exposed to working from home? As manufacturing is ramped up, what does the roll out of new vehicles mean for the larger ecosystem already experiencing collapse?

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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