During COVID-19, healthcare workers face many challenges, including a lack of PPE supply. The 3D printing community stepped up during the early stages of the pandemic. It provided an alternative manufacturing source that will provide excellent service moving forward.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) has exceeded the supply. Innovative manufacturers stepped up and began to fill the need for PPE through 3D printing. Throughout the pandemic, more than 140 social media groups from 36 countries that included over 18,000 members joined the 3D printing effort against COVID-19. Through the online community, engineers can design 3D models of PPE that receive feedback and are further tested and approved by medical experts before they are released.
The National Institutes of Health has an NIH 3D printable database with a COVID-19 section with open access files. An advantage to 3D printing is that there are no patents that prevent any restrictions to production.
To begin printing, you must first make a 3D model or use another creator’s file and slice it. Slicing can be done using 3D printing software. The model will be divided into many layers that tell the printer exactly how to build the model. 3D printing relies on the printer’s speed, size of the nozzle, extruded layer height, and size of the object being printed; time is critical towards the print’s quality. More than 180,000 users worldwide can each produce up to 6 face shields in 10 hours. Depending on their printer and design capabilities, over two million face shields would be printed in a single day.
3D printing is mainly used to make masks, face shields, and swab testing sticks. However, 3D printing has also been used to make oxygen venturi valves, hands-free door handle attachments, mask adjusters, ventilators, spirometry sensors, ventilator splitters, and oxygen filter housings.
There was a shortage of nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs needed for COVID-19 testing; a team from USF Health’s 3D Clinical Applications Division, along with Northwell Health and Formlabs, developed a 3D printed alternative. In a short time, a functional prototype was developed. Now, Formlabs has partnered with healthcare systems and governments worldwide to help print their swabs locally.
Many frontline healthcare workers faced discomfort from wearing masks for prolonged hours. A popular solution of a small, medium, or large-sized 3D printed buckle, which holds the face mask and enhances comfort. Testing is conducted for these materials to ensure safety and effectiveness. For example, designers and simulation experts have worked together by simulating a human sneeze trajectory to determine the most effective size of a face shield.
3D printing has provided great help with overcoming PPE shortages to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and is ready to receive support and further advancements. The current landscape of 3D printing is at a disadvantage when it comes to print speed. However, with its present advantages and further developments underway, 3D printing is an exciting tool for the future.