This Spring many countries leaders, including the British government, are managing national strategic plans for minimising the amount of their citizens who contract the Coronavirus during this pandemic which has swept quickly across the globe.
It is essential that vital National Health Service resources are available for people who need hospital care and may require respirators which are in limited supply. Personal Protection Equipment or P.P.E. is used to prevent the unintentional spread of the SARS Covid-19 disease and protect key workers in healthcare, facilities management, food retailing, policing and other essential services.
PPE is worn to provide a physical barrier that stops any liquid molecules from breath, sneezing or coughing etc. being passed between key workers and the general public. There is a variety of PPE that can be manufactured using 3D printers and sewing machines.
Items such as protective face shields, masks and mask comfort clips can be created at home by volunteers using their plastic modelling machines. It was community minded people who started the #PrintForVictory organisation with their 3D printers. Other items such as face masks and scrubs can be made using a sewing machine.
The printer reads a computer program file to receive a specific design and then extrudes filament in a given shape. A 3 dimensional object is then built up in many thin layers that when it is finished can be used for practical purposes. This is rather similar to the process a ceramicist would use to build up coil pot in clay.
“PLA or PETG is a viable material and both are accepted by NHS guidelines.” advises the Print For Victory website which also has links to designs to help normal folk to get making with their own equipment. So far hundreds of people all over England have taken up the opportunity of contributing and this has enabled thousands of devices to be in stock for the public services that need them. (1)
For example two Dorset pilots who are not flying at the moment turned their technical talents to making protective face visors. They were shipped off to a local ambulance station and also a children’s care home in Hampshire.
“We need more volunteers to fire up their 3D printers and donate these ear guards to hospitals and medical professionals.” said a cub scout called Quinn. This post was shared 456,000 times on facebook.
The BBC has reported that university departments are stepping up to manufacture PPE. “Dr Pashneh-Tala is part of a team at the University of Sheffield called iForge that has so far made 600 face shields for healthcare workers using a combination of 3D-printed frames, visors made from laser cutting and elastic.” (4)
3D Crowd UK are a charity supporting frontline medical teams. In the last month they have paired more than 6,000 competent 3D modellers with over 1500 different requests for face shields from organisations treating people who may have Covid-19. The initial batch has produced 80,000 face protectors with more in the pipeline. (5)
It is not all straightforward however as P.P.E. is strictly regulated by the government to keep health workers safe. For example medical use face masks are class 1 medical devices and “must meet the design and safety requirements of the Medical Device Regulations (MDD/MDR) and be CE marked before you can sell them in the UK.” Sterile equipment also has additional certificates that are required. (3)
This ‘citizen supply chain’ demonstrates our ability to care for each other and work together as humans to overcome problems. We are ‘all in it together’ trying to improve this difficult situation. 3D printers nationwide are giving help and hope during this time our doctors, nurses, carers and key workers are under such pressure to save lives and keep the country running.
Print for Victory, Organisation for 3D printer volunteers, 10 April 2020, Print for Victory
Thingiverse, 3D printing design hub, 10 April 2020, Thingiverse
‘Regulatory status of equipment being used to help prevent coronavirus (COVID-19)’
10 April 2020, UK Gov PP Equipment Regulations
Coronavirus: Can we 3D-print our way out of the PPE shortage? Zoe Kleinman, BBC News reporter, 10 April 2020, BBC News, Coronavirus: 3D printing and PPE
‘How are we supporting the frontline?’ 3D Crowd UK
13 April 2020, 3D Crowd UK home page