The COVID-19 pandemic has put huge stress on the healthcare systems across the globe. The outbreak has snowballed its way around the world. Medical equipment like face masks, ventilators, and respirators have become sparse. 3D printing community and enthusiasts have been motivated by this scarcity, to contribute in the battle against the virus. 3D printing provides a workaround to the issue of shortage and has risen as a helpful technology, like 3D Printed Face Masks. It allows creators to construct and evaluate designs much quicker than ever.

3D printing has allowed people to come up with innovative solutions; from specialized masks to various respiratory devices. They are also sharing their designs with others, playing their part to slow down the rate of infection. Most Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing groups around the world have joined forces to counter the scarcity of essential medical devices in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. Everyone, from huge brands to individuals at home with 3D printers, the entire community has answered the call to arms in a big way.

coronavirus mask
Photographer: engin akyurt | Source: Unsplash

Just a few people realized the importance of getting a 3D printer, as the first commercial 3D printers arrived with a hefty price tag. Through advancements in the technology behind these products, 3D printing has become a lot more affordable and accessible. The phenomenon of 3D printing has reached nearly all industries, to assist in developing, testing, and assembling components and parts on a smaller scale.

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Here is how the 3D printing community has been contributing to the fight against COVID-19.

3D Printed Personal Protective Equipment

Quarantine policies announced in order to address this pandemic triggered uncertainty and anxiety in the general population. It sparked panic buying, which limited the supplies for individuals, like health care professionals who need these goods. This is what prompted the Good Samaritans to lend a helping hand to those in need. Individuals across the world have built a range of functional, customized safety masks, mainly printed using inexpensive desktop printers and filaments.

There are plenty of PPE designs that have been shared, and examples can be seen on design sharing websites. Some designs allow for reusability as well as are in accordance with the standard sterilization protocols. However, the state of all such reusable PPE devices needs to be monitored regularly after sterilization.

In order to achieve a better fit, these masks can be printed in various sizes, with lightweight materials. Surface scanning the faces of intended wearers, along with tweaking it further in CAD softwares to deliver a more personalized piece can also be done. This can negatively impact the output of the manufacturing process but it will result in improved functionality.

Face mask N95
Photographer: visuals | Source: Unsplash

Overall, the output is probably the biggest challenge regarding the PPE printed in local 3D printing facilities and at homes. A lot of the PPE models mentioned above, take a long time to print on regular desktop units. Although several laboratories can expedite this process, working in tandem with several printers.

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3D Printed Face Masks

The NanoHack mask from Copper3D is one such example. These 3D Printed Face Masks can easily be printed using a PLA filament. The design consists of a plain air inlet port where you can put-in two reusable filters. The cover screws in to keep the filters in position. They have made the design open-source and released the STL file of this N95-esque mask. The objective of this project, labeled Hack the Pandemic, was to rally the printing services and 3D manufacturers. So that they could create these masks at a faster pace, to combat the scarcity of N95 masks and assist the healthcare professionals in this fight.

Researchers from Israel have developed a "protective oculo-respirator" which is more effective and secure than an N95 Mask. The ViriMASK is more comfortable to wear as compared to a regular gas mask, although it has similar features. It uses 0.1-micron filters, as opposed to 0.3-micron filters in N95 masks. It completely shields the mouth, eyes, and nose. The air cannot penetrate the surrounding areas of the face like in an N95 mask. It features replaceable and multi-functional filters.

Kvatthro, a Thingiverse user, has designed The HEPA mask, which can be printed with the help of the majority of desktop 3D printers. PLA is the recommended filament since it enables the mask to be fitted for an individual user. By using heat exposure, the mask can be altered to ensure a tight air seal around the covered area. This mask has both male and female versions available, as well as space for exchangeable filter. 3D printer maker Creality has also offered a variation of a face mask, that can use filters or layers of fabric.

3D Printed Face Shields

The majority of local manufacturers are printing face shields that are simple see-through screens. These screens shield the face to protect the wearers from pathogens in the air. There have been quite a few innovative designs, that essentially keep the droplets from reaching the face. Several companies have also contributed to the cause by sharing designs for face masks.

Face shields are among the other more in-demand PPE gear that is being produced using 3D printers. One of such shields has been designed by Prusa. These are simple devices that comprise a reusable headpiece that can be printed. A separately acquired transparent plastic visor is then fitted into the headpiece, and it becomes an effective face shield. It covers the areas around the eyes, mouth, and nose. This stops the airborne pathogens from coming into contact with the user.

3D Printing to Tackle COVID-19 Crisis

As the stocks plummet and disorder in distribution chains continues– it has emerged as an hour of crisis as well as an opportunity for the 3D printing industry. The 3D printing sector as a whole may not experience growth, but perhaps the technology has an opportunity to deliver the required support for emergency spares and medical supplies. 3D printing has emerged as a positive facility in this age of worldwide pandemic, with reduced lead times and decreased production costs.