How 3D Printing Is Helping in the Fight Against Coronavirus

The 3D printing community is stepping up to answer the call in a face of a shortage of essential medical devices.

Chris Wiltz

March 25, 2020

6 Min Read
How 3D Printing Is Helping in the Fight Against Coronavirus

3D printing companies like Prusa3D are calling on the wider community to help with printing essential medical devices like face shields. (Image source: Prusa3d)

As hospitals and other medical facilities all over the world are experiencing a shortage of masks, shields, and other equipment in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak – the 3D printing community, from makers and hobbyists to major companies, are answering the call.

“Ok 3D Printers [sic], if ever there was a moment for us its [sic] now. I received no less than 50 texts last night directly from local ER docs BEGGING for as many shields as we can get them. My little printfarm is not nearly enough. WE NEED YOU!” Over the weekend “Pooch”, a representative of California-based 3D print supplier Repkord, tweeted a call to action asking anyone with available 3D printers to assist in an effort to print face shields to be distributed to hospitals in need.

The effort is being spearheaded by Prusa3D, a Czech company that produces its own line of open-source 3D printers. Prusa is providing specs and is making the files to print a protective face shield freely available to download.

In a blog post, Prusa3D's founder, Josef Prusa, said that while it would be difficult to 3D-print more complex medical devices like respirators, 3D printers are more than capable of printing medical-quality face shields.

“ We were notified on Facebook that doctors are in great need of face shields and that there is already a great face shield design available online. We took it as a starting point and decided that we would adjust it for easier and faster 3D printing – e.g. there shouldn’t be any supports required and we should fit as many of them onto a single print sheet as possible,” Prusa wrote.

After some prototyping and working with the Czech Ministry of Health for verifications, Prusa3D says it has settled on a final design and is committing to donating 10,000 units to the Czech Ministry of Health. The first of Prusa's units are out for field testing. Upon approval Prusa says his company can print up to 800 units a day using materials that costs less than $1 US and without any disruption to the company's normal operations.

Repkord says it will be accepting 3D-printed shields via mail and will handle disinfecting them. For anyone looking to 3D print shields for their own local hospital, Prusa3D offers these guidelines:

  • Act as if you were infected by the COVID-19 virus. Wear a face mask and a fresh pair of gloves when collecting each batch of printed parts. Store the parts immediately in a sealable bag.

  • Talk with whoever you’re making the shields for, let them know about your manufacturing environment

  • There is still debate about how long the virus survives on plastic, but most sources mention 2-3 days. That means that by letting the packed face shields sit for 2-3 days before distributing them, you’ll greatly reduce risk of transmission

  • Do not store the entire stock in one place, minimize the risk of cross-contamination

Prusa3D is offering instructional guidelines for community members who want to 3D printing its face shields.

More and more 3D printing companies are lending their technologies to coronavirus relief efforts, both by offering medical device support as well as 3D-printed devices that can assist with sanitation and containment efforts.

Stratasys has committed to a global mobilization effort to offer its 3D printing capacity worldwide to anyone looking to print disposable medical face masks. In Italy, FabLab and startup Issinova have collaborated to 3D-print replacement respirator valves for a hospital in Chiari in northern Italy

Materialise, a Belgium-based 3D printing company that traditionally works with the automotive, aerospace, and healthcare industries, has made design files for a “hands-free door opener” freely available online. Born out of the company's own efforts to keep its employees safe from contracting COVID-19, the opener can be fitted to a door, without drilling holes or replacing the existing door handle, and allows people to open doors with their forearm.

The current model can only be attached to cylindrical handles, but Materialise says it plans to introduce additional designs using different 3D printing technologies as needed.

Formlabs is working with US hospitals to 3D print test swabs (shown) and other medical devices. (Image source: Formlabs)

Back on the medical device front, 3D printing company Formlabs recently announced several efforts with hospitals across the US to use its 3D printers to print a range of medical devices including facial shields, test kits, and surgical masks.

“We're working w/ 3 [sic] hospitals around the US to 3D print swabs for #COVID19 testing. ~300 can be printed per build w/ the same material as Surgical Guide Resin. This is undergoing clinical evaluation. Between Formlabs + our volunteer network, we have 1,000 printers ready to help,” the company tweeted this week.

“Formlabs is mobilizing its community of users to deploy nearly 1,000 printers to quickly mass-produce testswabs as well as other important personal protective equipment (PPE),” Gaurav Manchanda, Healthcare Director at Formlabs told Design News. “A single print can produce 300 test swabs at a time, enabling Formlabs to produce 75,000-150,000 swabs per day. This development will rapidly provide hospitals with access to large quantities of these essential COVID-19 test kit components.”

Formlabs tweeted it is also working with “a leading Boston hospital, Arthur Blume, Eugene Mann, and hundreds of volunteer designers and engineers” to create a 3D-printed full-face snorkel mask, made of biocompatible materials, that can fit onto breathing circuits already in use in hospitals.

Formlabs's projects are still awaiting clinical evaluation and testing. But the company says once this is done it will be reaching out to the wider 3D printing community for help in printing these devices to keep up with very high demand. Interested parties can sign up ahead of time now using an online form.

Formlabs has also pledged to make its 3D printers available to others who are working on other COVID-19-related projects and need access to more 3D printers and resources.


Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

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