Do a web search on 3D printing and COVID, and you’ll find endless examples of the 3D printing industry (both commercial and hobbyist) mobilizing to create personal protective equipment (PPE) in response to the severe shortages that many countries face. If you have any experience with 3D printing, helping out is as simple as downloading the design files (such as this one for face masks or this one for face shields), sending them to the printer, and waiting 3+ hours for the printer to do its job.(*)
So when Tim of Adirondack oral and maxillofacial surgery contacted Zak Robinson, my colleague over in the Physics department, and lamented his inability to secure PPE for his staff, Zak and I got to work. Both of us use 3D printing in our teaching and research activities at SUNY Brockport, and when the pandemic shut down the campus for the remainder of the semester, we each brought home our printers so we could carry on with our making.
Both of us ran in to some slight problems with the printing process. Initially, Zak was struggling with the prints staying adhered to the printer bed throughout the entire print. I’ve been trying to speed up the print using a thicker layer height, which impacts the aesthetics a bit. After resolving the issues, we sent an initial batch of masks to the office to see if they would fit Tim’s needs. The feedback we received was very encouraging.
We did talk to Tim about how 3D printed masks don’t have the same fluid barrier and air filtration protection as N95 masks do. He reminded us that he’s a doctor, and he can read the FDAs recommendations and cautions just as well as we can.
Last we heard, Tim had treated 3 patients while using our PPE. They are sufficiently comfortable to wear for two hours without issues. He’s now looking for more, and we are more than happy to comply.
It’s a but surreal for me to think that a few years back, I was taking a sabbatical to learn how to do 3D printing and incorporate it into Chemistry education and research. Now I’m using my craft to help doctors treat patients and keep themselves safe. I knew that as a professor, I could impact lives, but I never thought it would be quite like this.
(*) OK, it is a bit more difficult when you take safety into consideration, and if you do decide to do some printing of your own, make masks and shields as if you were infected by the virus. Wear your own PPE, store parts in sealed bags and make sure you inform the recipient of any precautions you did or did not take.