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Heed the Call

Coronavirus Crisis: 3D Printing Community Responds

Picture of Matthew Mensley
by Matthew Mensley
Mar 26, 2020
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As countries around the world scramble to manage the coronavirus pandemic, makers and companies at all levels are donating their time and printers to the cause. Here's how you can too.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is slowly but surely affecting all aspects of daily life. For many countries, this means closed borders, social distancing, and the closure of places of work, worship, and recreation.

Parallel to the disturbance to public life, is the chaos wreaked on healthcare services by the increased number of patients admitted to overburdened hospitals. Often requiring a particular type of ventilator for life-support – Covid-19 is a respiratory virus – the sudden spike in demand for these machines has stretched supply chains and the hospitals using them to a breaking point. Not to mention the mountain of personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be required to protect medical workers at rsik from infection in medical centers and other less obvious places.

Here are the ways 3D printing and the ingenuity of companies and individuals that use it could, and in some cases already have, assisted during the Covid-19 crisis.

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The Latest News

Here’s some of the latest news on how 3D printing is making a difference in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.

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Covid-19 & 3D Printing

Prusa Face Shield RC3 Releases

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Prusa Research 3D Printed Face Shield (Source: Prusa Reseach)

It took just three days for Prusa Research to develop its face shield contribution to global efforts to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Since that initial Release Candidate 1 (RC1) release seven days ago, the company has iterated to RC2, and, now, RC3. Implementing a number of design tweaks to shorten the printing time and increase the comfort and usability of the shields, this newer version is also available as a stacked model of four, optimized to allow for faster batch printing.

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Face Shields

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Prusa Face Shield in action in Denver (Source: 3D Hubs)

Anyone following the buzz on social media and forums following the 3D printing community’s mobilization to do anything and everything to ease the burden on overstretched medical centers and staff will probably have noticed that simply printing a mask is not so simple. There are questions of the necessary fit, seal, not to mention being able to breathe through them and then the issue of FDM printed parts, by their very nature, are full of micro-nooks and crannies for microbial nasties to hang out in … you get the idea.

And thus, smarter folks than we have deduced that face shields, which can serve as a physical barrier from larger airborne droplets from a sneeze or a cough, are the better use of desktop 3D printing time and energy. The idea has caught on, and there are many different face shields out there, each slightly different, some undoubtedly copied, iterated, debranded, rebranded.

We have no particular stake in saying which is better – some have a traceable pedigree to their designs, others don’t. We’ll leave that to the individual to determine. Note that some of these shields are uncertified, and could be subject to varying degrees of regulation depending on where you are. Check ahead before rocking up to an institution to donate shields, take their advice, and be stringent about hygiene when making (see below)

Here are some of the novel face shields we know of:

There is plenty of advice about how to best produce these so as not to pose a risk to anyone you would consider passing the shields on to. Knowing that it has been approved by the Czech ministry of health, we’re directing attention to Prusa’s sensible and achievable advice.

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Carbon Gears Up with Face Shields, Micro Lattice Testing Swabs

Taking things at a clip, Silicon Valley unicorn Carbon has developed, in collaboration with Verily, a face shield for use in medical facilities, that can be printed from a number of the company’s resins.

The face shield has seen use in Bay Area hospitals and leverages the company’s extensive experience producing form-fit apparel (through its close partnership with sports brand Adidas), and development of specialist resins. The file is available to all Carbon subscribers (read: clients using its machines) via the company’s website, to make use of and assist in their local areas. The files are accompanied by the stringent requirements for the shield’s production, preparation, and care.

On a parallel track, the company has partnered with healthcare institutions including Stanford and Beth Israel medical centers to develop medical testing swabs – another crucial medical product that, in short supply, could produce bottlenecks in screening efforts.

Developed using the company’s proprietary Carbon Lattice Engine software – which has been used to develop, among other things, high-tech custom sports equipment and, perhaps most recognizably, custom midsoles for Adidas sneakers – a fast design cycle rowed through seven iterations of swabs (six passing patient testing in the process), before settling on an eighth.

Unlike the Carbon’s face shield, which is exempt from regulation and can be accepted into medical centers without hesitation, the swabs require further certification and approvals before they are likely to see field use.

Carbon’s efforts in tackling the myriad of problems the Covid-19 pandemic poses continue to manifest in other ways, including the recent opening of access to its Carbon Lattice Engine software to the public (by request via email), and an over-the-air firmware update to its printers, somehow doubling their (already fast) print speed specifically for printing the face shields.

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3D Hubs Launches Covid-19 Manufacturing Fund

Netherlands-based 3D Hubs has launched a branching Covid-19 Manufacturing Fund, leveraging its network of manufacturing partners to produce parts for grassroots initiatives and non-profits.

Additionally, the company has set up a GoFundMe campaign to collect donations from sponsors. Used to fund the production of parts for vetted projects using 3D Hubs’ manufacturing platform, the company will donate its profits from Covid-19-related orders back into the fund.

Those in need of production facility and funding can apply directly through the 3D Hubs website. Benefactors can donate to the fund through the GoFundMe campaign page.

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Coronavirus Contests

Necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s in no short supply during this pandemic. While CAD-savvy creators have already developed products like no-touch door handles and other 3D-printable tools to help keep us safer, there’s always room for more innovation.

That’s why some organizations and companies have started contests to get those creative juices flowing and to promote making creative and potentially life-saving ideas a reality.

Covid-19 & 3D Printing

Cad Crowd: Covid-19/Coronavirus Product Design and 3D Printing Challenge

This product design competition by Cad Crowd calls upon CAD aficionados to create product concepts that are “practical, affordable, simple to produce and can be easily cleaned.”

Think things like “no-touch door handles, no-touch doorknob attachments for houses/senior living spaces, and no-touch faucets,” reads the competition briefing, adding you can submit your design entries with images in a range of file formats.

All the products will be shared under a Creative Commons license so they can be quickly 3D printed or produced with basic components.

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Prusa Design Contest: Everyday Necessities for Life During a Pandemic

There are three types of objects Prusa is looking for: everyday life necessities, interactive toys, and educational items. Essentially, the goal is to help people stay creative so they don’t get too antsy while social distancing, so think things like board games, letters of the alphabet, or items you could run out of during quarantine (like clothespins, pill organizers, and handles).

One thing Prusa is not interested in is any protective gear against coronavirus.

“Untested prints could do more harm than good and actually help spread the infection instead of fighting it,” stresses the contest brief. “We will ignore such models during the contest evaluation.”

The contest will run for a total of 30 days and every 10 days during this time, Prusa will announce a winner. The first two winners will score an Original Prusa i3 MK3S kit and in the final round the same printer will also be the grand prize, but the runner up will score three Prusament spools, the third-place winner will get two Prusament spools and 20 other contestants will also get a spool each.

Get more details here.

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DIY: How You Can Help Fight the Virus

If you’re a maker, there are a number of initiatives already underway that you can assist in. From things like printing no-touch door handles in your own home or donating them, to giving your time and expertise to the cause, here’s how you can help.

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Covid-19 & 3D Printing

Simple Arm Door Opener

Image of Covid-19 & 3D Printing: Simple Arm Door Opener
Arm Door Opener (Source: CIM UPC, via Youmagine)

Despite shutting its doors (as untold others are doing so during the Covid-19 pandemic), Barcelona’s CIM UPC has released a simple home printable that can help make opening a door hands-free. Similar to Materialise’s further down this list, CIM UPC’s version needs only cable-ties to attach to the door handle. The file is available via Youmagine.

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Commit Printing Time and Expertise

In response to the Brescia story, a Google Sheet has been set up for makers the world over to provide basic details about their availability and capability to make such devices as the oxygen valve.

As the Covid-19 crisis deepens, such a resource could serve as a shortcut for under-pressure medical institutions in dire need of small-scale manufacturing help.

Those interested in signing up can do so via the submission form. Take note that this is a publicly available document. Your email address, name, and general location will be there for all to see, so make sure you are comfortable with this information becoming public knowledge.

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Design an Open Source Ventilator

Further than committing printing time and materials, several open-source projects have emerged in recent days with the singular goal of developing ventilators that can be produced cheaply and locally.

Several posts covering the concept of an open-source ventilator have given wind to the idea that a crowdsourced response, channeling the kind of energy typically reserved for hackathons, could be instrumental in helping areas stricken by a spike of Covid-19 cases.

Thanks to Brent Jackson of the OpenRespirator Project, who has compiled a list in his GitHub repo, we currently know of the OpenRespirator Project, Project Open Air, and the Open Lung Low Resource Ambu-Bag Ventilator.

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Materialise Hands-Free Door Handle

Belgian 3D printing bureau Materialise quickly put its inhouse design talent to use during the Covid-19 crisis, designing a bolt-on door hack to make simple lever door handles hands-free.

A smart move that eliminates contact with a common transmission object at home, in public and even hospitals, the design simplifies the elbow-action we’ve all near perfected in recent weeks.

Available to download for free, the two-part print requires two long and two short screws, plus four nuts to secure them all in place. Don’t forget to print one for each side of the door.

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What 3D Printing Companies are Doing

Here’s how 3D printing companies are using their resources and expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 & 3D Printing

Voodoo Manufacturing Selling Protective Face Shields

Image of Covid-19 & 3D Printing: Voodoo Manufacturing Selling Protective Face Shields
Voodoo Manufacturing is selling 3D printed protective face shields (Source: Voodoo Manufacturing)

Brooklyn-based Voodoo Manufacturing runs two 3D printing factories with over 200 machines and they’ve repurposed them to help fight against Covid-19.

The company says it is working to develop personal protective equipment, replacement parts for ventilators and other needed devices.

They are selling protective face shields for $10 apiece with a minimum order of 100 units on-demand for hospitals or other organizations that need them. Voodoo Manufacturing says the price reflects the material and labor costs for production, plus “a small margin” to help keep their doors open and pay their employees.

“We are not seeking any additional profit beyond that,” they state, adding that they’re operating at “the lowest possible margin” and are taking the safety of their staff seriously.

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Formlabs Developing Test Swabs

Image of Covid-19 & 3D Printing: Formlabs Developing Test Swabs
Prototype test swabs (Source: Formlabs, via Twitter)

Formlab’s printers and specialist materials could prove their efficacy time and again through this crisis – perhaps first through the company’s ongoing effort to 3D print medical swabs for testing Covid-19. According to a tweet from March 22, the company has partnered with three hospitals in the US and is undergoing clinical evaluation of the parts.

Printed from the company’s Surgical Guide Resin, in testing the swabs have been printed in batches of some 300 swabs to a single Form 3 build plate. As detailed last week, the company has established a network of its users volunteering its machine time, which could mean distributed manufacturing is ready to go, should the swab receive approval for use (and the machine operators have the correct resin in stock.)

Since then, Formlabs’s CPO Dávid Lakatos reported on Twitter that they’re “waiting for final validation to print swabs for test kits,” adding they can print around 300 per platform and have about 250 printers in-house in Ohio, plus an additional 800 through their volunteer network.

Lakatos also added that the company is working on creating respiratory mask adaptors.

Here’s Formlab’s full response to Covid-19.

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MatterHackers Creates US Coordination Hub

MatterHackers, the California-based 3D printing superstore, has launched a hub on its website through which it intends to connect hospitals and governmental departments with its own customers that have volunteered time and resources for distributed manufacture of parts as required.

Interested medical facilities and government agencies can register their interest on the MatterHackers website, as can those with access to 3D printers that want to help. Alternatively, there is a general signup to register your interest to help – even in the absence of a 3D printer.

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Ultimaker Customer Network

Netherlands-based Ultimaker is offering its services to medical professionals and projects in a multitude of ways.

Primarily, the company is offering to serve as a link between hospitals in need of printing services and its global network of customers to facilitate printing. Accessible through a custom Google Maps filter, the network available stretches mostly across EMEA and North America.

In addition, the company says it is putting together a team of designers and engineers to support part design and creation. Aimed specifically at the initial creation of a part or tool that has run out, or is only available in limited supply, this process would then have the new part undergo testing and approval at the hospital before production begins. Requests for design support can be made through an Ultimaker-created survey Ultimaker for the initiative.

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Prusa Protective Face Shield

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Prusa Protective Face Shield in action on the now-beardless Josef Prusa (Source: PrusaPrinters.org)

Prusa Research has added its clout to the pandemic fightback, designing and prototyping a 3D printable face shield for frontline medical workers to protect their faces against the coughs and sneezes of patients in their care.

The printable – currently early on in its development at release candidate 1 (RC1) – is detailed in a lengthy but fascinating blog post on the Prusa website.

Acknowledging the problems with 3D printing parts for sensitive medical equipment (which is not impossible, but best left to the most desperate of times), and the challenges of getting printed face masks to provide the necessary fit and seal, the Prusa team instead opted to contribute with a novel, 3D printable face shield.

Turned around in three days flat – including two verifications from the Czech Ministry of Health – the mask is available to download from the PrusaPrinters website. It is recommended to print the parts in PETG.

Uniquely placed to suddenly manufacture hundreds, if not thousands of the shield brackets and bands (a separate, laser-cut sheet of PET is also needed), the Prusa print farm – as of the time of the blog post’s publication – has a fifth of its capacity working on the shields, producing 800 pieces daily. Scaled up to maximum capacity would yield 4,000 pieces daily, with headroom to grow given the company’s resources and ability to rapidly add more machines.

An initial batch of 10,000 of these early shields has been donated to the Czech Ministry of Health.

A separate, but vital note is also raised by the blog post – sterilization. The Covid-19 virus is thought to survive on plastic for up to 90 hours, meaning that it is all too easy for a printed part to become, and remain, contaminated. There are no officially verified ways of sterilizing 3D printed masks, shields, and other equipment, so it is best to err on the side of safety and treat them as one-time-use only.

Similarly, with such 3D printed emergency supplies contemplated as a short-term solution against shortages, for all the willing makers and businesses around the globe eager to help, actually producing the parts in a responsible and sterile manner matters. Good intentions alone won’t stop a contaminated printed mask or shield from potentially worsening a severely sick patient should they come into contact.

The blog post advises those producing parts they intend to donate be checked by a professional (a professional what exactly is not specified, but we would take this to mean healthcare professional you are in contact with over your contribution.)

Projects around the world that are working on proven designs such as the face shield are encouraged to contact the company via email, the intent being to share printable designs on the PrusaPrinters model repository.

(Lead image credit: PrusaPrinters.org)

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Italian Hospital Uses 3D Printed Oxygen Valves

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Isinnova CEO Cristian Fracassi and mechanical engineer Alessandro Romaioli with the SLS replacement valves (Source: BBC)

A hospital in Brescia, Italy, one of the worst-afflicted regions in Europe, has had to operate over-capacity with some 250 patients in intensive care. With each case requiring long hours of assisted breathing using a ventilator, a shortage of oxygen valves quickly became a problem.

Upon discovering the issue, Nunzia Vallini, Italian journalist and director of magazine Giornale di Brescia, connected the hospital with Isinnova, a business research and development firm that quickly made it to the hospital to inspect the valve.

Modeling the part onsite, a rough replacement was produced and in testing within 24 hours. Following initial success, some 70 more were produced with the assistance of engineers at Brescia-based industrial manufacturer, the Lonati Group.

The valves, batch produced using selective laser sintering technology, are said to be in use already, aiding the intensive care of patients fighting the virus.

A “quick and dirty” fix in a time of crisis, it demonstrates the radical agility 3D printing technology can bring to a supply chain. It’s perhaps too early to say whether stories such as Brescia will be fringe cases, or if flashpoints of the virus will make this a regular thing.

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Scaling Up to Print Safety Goggles

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An unnamed safety equipment manufacturer in Jinhua, China, is tackling the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage head-on, tasking its farm of 200 Flashforge Guider 2 3D printers to produce safety goggles for frontline medical staff.

Tasking its R&D team to develop a 3D printable, mass-producible product, the company managed to finalize the goggles in a little under two weeks, a design that will result in the ability to tool up to print some 2,000 goggles daily. According to the release on Business Wire, to date, some 5,000 3D printed googles have already been donated to hospitals.

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Safety & Legality

Of course, for some of these 3D printed parts used in medical devices, there’s the question of whether they’re as safe as their non-3D printed, manufacturer-approved counterparts and whether there could be any potential legal implications for jerry-rigging these life-saving devices.

Despite the success of cases like the one in Brescia, Italy and the Google sheet organizing makers’ time and resources to help, the reality is these printed parts are hugely untested. They likely could be outside of the tolerances for the machines they are paired with and will not be up to the clinical standard of production. That people’s lives hinge on the effectiveness of this printed part highlights how desperate the situation is for the communities at the heart of the pandemic.

And the legal complications of unofficially mass-producing patented parts, and who is liable should one of these printed parts fail in the care of an immunocompromised patient, are also worth giving some thought to.

Not to mention the danger of contamination with 3D printed parts – the porosity of a printed part, in addition to the Covid-19 virus being able to survive on plastic for days – make current solutions as PPE at best, only good for one-time use. Gadgets and gizmos to make hands-free operation in daily life are less risky, but for the production of protective equipment for medical workers caution is advised, as is the oversight of professionals in the making and handling of such pieces.

Regardless, the desperate situations of cities caught in the midst of this crisis have inspired makers around the world to commit their time and machines to the cause. If you find yourself in the situation to help, try to do so responsibly.

Debunked?
Covid-19 & 3D Printing

#HackThePandemic NanoHack Respirator

Image of Covid-19 & 3D Printing: #HackThePandemic NanoHack Respirator

Update 23/03/2020: Copper3D’s website appears to be down, and there has been significant noise online criticizing the company’s mask, plan, and, well, generally poking holes in a lot of what the company has claimed of its mask. Dubious or not, we reported on it in this article, taking the apparent effort to help worldwide efforts to combat Covid-19 at face value, noting the point from Copper3D’s announcement was for others to iterate and improve the design. What we initially wrote remains below, though we have relegated its position in this article to the bottom as something of a footnote. Copper3D’s silence in the face of the criticism is somewhat damning, but perhaps the company will respond with a rebuttal to the reaction. The short of it; don’t print masks. At least, not ones that haven’t been verified or endorsed by the appropriate regulatory or medical professionals.

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Copper 3D, a Chile/US specialist manufacturer that produces antibacterial materials, has launched what it calls NanoHack, and with it, the catchy hashtag #HackThePandemic. The NanoHack is a 3D printable face mask that could serve as an alternative to the N95 masks that are said to be in short supply.

A fast, flat print that maximizes the idea of distributed manufacturing, the mask can be printed locally and shipped flat. Thermoformed during assembly to fit the individual, the NanoHack mask looks to create a good seal around the face and provide a long-lasting alternative to disposable fabric masks that are in short supply.

It would appear that to be fully effective, the mask should be printed in Copper 3D’s PLACTIVE antimicrobial PLA filament. This certainly would shorten the risk of the plastic shell becoming contaminated. Antimicrobial material aside, there is a sealable recess that accepts makeshift filters such as cotton padding, proving at least some form of respiratory protection.

The file is freely available for all to download (ed note: link removed) and improve upon, with Copper 3D encouraging an “Open Source mindset” toward the project.

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We’ll update this article with any other projects, solutions, and calls-to-action that emerge. If you know of any, sound off in the comments and we’ll fold them into the article where appropriate.

License: The text of "Coronavirus Crisis: 3D Printing Community Responds" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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