The Coronavirus Pandemic Is a Call to Serve for 3-D-Printing Hobbyists

Gene Naumovsky

Organized groups of 3-D-printing enthusiasts have already created hundreds of thousands of PPE pieces.

As the pandemic forced millions into lockdown, thousands of 3-D-printing volunteers have united to produce hundreds of thousands of 3-D-printed face shields, according to The Wall Street Journal. British design group 3D Crowd UK had around 8,000 of its members start the initiative in March.

3-D-printing enthusiast, movie producer, and 3D Crowd UK administrative chief executive, Andrew Boucher said, “We touched a chord with a whole community who had 3-D printers at home being used to print novelty items like Dungeons & Dragons pieces. They jumped at the chance to help save lives.”

While 3D Crowd UK is just one of many 3D-printing groups involved in coronavirus aid initiatives, the group’s organized initiative shows “the potential for harnessing the power of distributed manufacturing to deliver products on a large scale.”

Dr. Jenny Molloy said, “In many countries, they have been supplying PPE to care homes, hospices and other institutions that aren’t on the radar of larger suppliers.”

Another group taking advantage of 3-D printing, the nonprofit Gila Project (London, Ontario) distributed around 5,000 face shields to hospitals and clinics in need across Canada. Assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, Nathan Tykocki brought together 40 individuals at Michigan State University to print 8,000 face shields. The protective gear was distributed to healthcare staff in mid- and southeast Michigan.

Speaking on the safety of 3-D printed protective gear, Martin Culpepper, professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, “One of the biggest risks is that you develop a piece of PPE that looks like it will work but then doesn’t.” Yet, the U.S. FDA has approved emergency usage of certain types of PPE. Conditions have to be met by 3-D-printing groups, such as “the labeling does not state that use of the authorized face shield alone will prevent infection from microbes or viruses.”

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