Apparently, the role of 3D printing in solving equipment problems during the pandemic was bigger than most thought. In a new report – Executive Summary: Assessing the Role of Additive Manufacturing in Support of the US COVID-19 Response – the FDA notes that as of March 2020, the US healthcare community is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) accessories and medical supplies Devices used to treat COVID-19 patients.
American individuals and corporations responded to health care needs by developing and producing additively manufactured PPE, PPE accessories, and medical devices. Responses included hobbyists, communities, and small and large businesses that took advantage of the adaptability of additive manufacturing (AM).
3D printing companies rushed to help
Protolabs was one of the many 3D printing companies that dropped everything to make the medical devices it needed. Business leaders realized that responding quickly to the lack of medical equipment was paramount. “This speed was crucial during the pandemic. We have always prided ourselves on our speed, but that has accelerated during the pandemic, ”Gurvinder Singh, global product director for injection molding at Protolabs, told Design News. “We shipped the parts on Monday after we received the order on Friday.”
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, Protolabs converted its production facility to manufacture medical devices. “Demand began at the end of February and beginning of March. We have developed into a consumer provider. Our customers pushed us to do it, ”said Singh. “We saw the need for the low-volume-high mix. However, we made this in bulk, ”said Singh. “We started to see the need for fan parts. Then test kits, then PPE, masks and face protection. “
The Most Urgent Needs During COVID
The healthcare sector has faced a critical shortage of PPE, PPE accessories and medical equipment necessary to manage COVID-19 transmission due to several factors:
1. Reliance on just-in-time manufacturing
2. Lack of an adequate and well-maintained national PPE warehouse
3. Reliance on globally sourced products from countries that were simultaneously affected by the same pandemic
Failure to procure adequate PPE, PPE accessories, and medical equipment would jeopardize the health of the entire healthcare system and its ability to provide high quality care to Americans with a wide variety of diseases. These bottlenecks not only affected large hospitals, but also long-term care and nursing facilities, outpatient health services and social services. The medical community has faced a shortage of N95 respirators, face masks, gowns, COVID-19 nasal swabs, ventilators and more.
Rationing equipment was not enough
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tried to alleviate the problem by suggesting equipment rationing. The CDC directed health care providers to practice inventory management and reuse of N95 respirators with crisis capacity. However, other things lacking in the medical community provided AM with an opportunity to address traditional supply bottlenecks.
PPE accessories and medical devices made by AM technology included a handful of essential pieces of equipment:
1. Face shields were one of the most commonly manufactured parts of additive manufacturing PPE and have been used with no problems by all members of the medical community.
2. Ear muffs and other non-medical devices were both easy to handle and easy to use by healthcare professionals because they did not replace the designated medical devices.
3. The development of AM printable nasal swabs, particularly nasopharyngeal swabs, has enabled hospitals to reduce the shortage of diagnostic equipment for COVID-19.
4. Face masks were initially a strong focus of the medical community, but because of their importance in infection control, the health community has focused on N95 inventory management and strategies for reusing N95. Filming for the additive manufacturing of PPE, PPE accessories and medical devices.
Device manufacturers came from everywhere
Community manufacturers included individuals, colleges, hospitals, makerspaces, and government agencies who used AM machines to make PPE, PPE accessories, and medical devices. These manufacturers relied on prior manufacturing experience, knowledge of AM techniques, as well as the National Institutes of Health’s 3D Print Exchange and COVID 3D TRUST to quickly design and produce safe items. The quick response depended on collaboration through social media, personal connections, and professional organizations. This sparked numerous local reactions across the country.
Rob Spiegel has been reporting on manufacturing for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include automation, supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cybersecurity. For 10 years he was the owner and editor of the food magazine Chile Pepper.