Can we 3D print a better face mask to stop the pandemic?

Can we 3D print a better face mask to stop the pandemic?

Part Pandemic-ProofFuture Perfect series about upgrades we can make to prepare for the next pandemic.

Some of the most indelible images of the early pandemic were the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) crises in our hospitals – photos of doctors and nurses carrying repurposed garbage bags, swimming goggles and diving masks as LZO supplies dwindled due to the Covid-19 Attack.

Those images highlighted how unprepared we were to deal with the rapidly evolving pandemic. American hospitals relied heavily on foreign suppliers, especially in China, for PPE, and there are no regulations requiring hospitals or states to maintain a certain level of inventory in the event of a crisis. Most are not; American health care is working under great financial pressure, and timely sources are – in normal times – more cost-effective. The result was a lack of supply that hampered our response to the pandemic.

While the country waited for American manufacturers to increase PPE production and for supply chains to stabilize, a fascinating solution for stopping emerged: 3D printing. Faced with a shortage of masks, a coalition of private, public and volunteer groups banded together to fill the gap, and their efforts focused on producing and distributing 3D printed masks.

Their work, of course, was not nearly enough to cover the shortcoming. But as a stopping step, they have undoubtedly helped, especially at the local level where such operations have been focused – and all this points to the limited but promising role of 3D printing in the fight against future pandemics.

“Wild West PPE”

It is difficult to overestimate how terrible the PPE crisis was in the early days of the pandemic, especially for health workers at the forefront of the crisis.

The shortage led to a fierce search for masks and other equipment that opposed hospitals and states. John Hick, the emergency medical director at Hennepin Healthcare in Minnesota, recalls how much his hospital had to go to ensure deliveries from ever-insufficient supplies. “We knew that the supply chain would not be able to keep up with the pandemic. And it’s not, ”he told me.

Meanwhile, supply companies in China have tried to get around it export restrictions introduced by the Chinese government at the beginning of the pandemic. “When we got samples of masks and dresses from China,” Hick told me, “many times they came in a box wrapped in clothes, so from an export point of view it looked like they were sending them, not PPE.”

Premier Inc., a healthcare supply company, told me that orders had increased 17 times in the early days of Covid-19 and that hospitals across the country were sending their representatives overseas in a frantic attempt to buy back any remaining supplies they could. Sometimes they were lucky, but staff unfamiliar with the process and without prior contact with vendors often returned with counterfeit products – or sometimes nothing at all.

It was “Wild West PPE”, Hick remembers.

This is where 3D printing appeared.

Promise to print PPE in a pandemic crisis

3D printers I can do solid, three-dimensional objects from digital design. Following digital design, material such as plastic or metal powder is placed in successive layers, one after the other – one of the reasons why 3D printing is also known as additive production.

Given enough raw material and digital design to work with, 3D printers can produce physical items such as face shields and masks within minutes or hours. It is far from perfect – additive production generally relied more on prototype design than full-scale production – but the desperate need for PPE in the early stages of the pandemic provided an opportunity to push the boundaries of 3D printing technology.

This is exactly what COVID 3D trust the project tried to facilitate, after the lack of PPE became clear in the early stages of the pandemic. The group was founded under the auspices Exchange of 3D prints of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)., a program launched by the agency in 2014 to support bioscience research; they mainly printed 3D models of molecules that are studied in biological research laboratories.

They already had the necessary infrastructure and were able to work closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support state-of-the-art biomedical work, printing masks and face shields for healthcare professionals. In only 10 days in In March 2020, they managed to secure a platform to host a massive warehouse of 3D printed designs for masks, face shields and other supplies such as nasal swabs – all tested by the VA to meet FDA emergency use. PPE authorization standards.

Meanwhile, Advanced Production Response to the Production Crisis, (AMCPR) Exchange, a web platform run by America Makes (a public-private partnership to promote innovative work such as 3D printing), has provided a separate platform to connect small producers with customers. According to Meghan McCarthy, NIH 3D Print Exchange Program Manager, the demand was clear: traffic on the COVID 3D Trust website jumped rapidly, from 15,000 users per month before the pandemic to 30,000 users per day in March 2020.

AMCPR’s success has relied on individuals, volunteer groups, university organizations, and commercial entities who have stepped up their contribution to their local 3D printing capacities in providing the PPE needed for Covid-19 response efforts.

He was among them Illinois PPE project, a volunteer endeavor that came together when the urgent need for PPE in nearby hospitals became apparent and the response of established institutions proved weak. The project managed to organize veterans to deliver products, use donated loading space from local companies, and rely on volunteer efforts to call hospitals and find out who has the most urgent needs.

A report compiled America Makes he estimated that his efforts produced and delivered 38 million face shields and face shield parts, over 12 million Covid-19 diagnostic nasal swabs, over 2 million ear protectors and hundreds of thousands of mask components and fan parts. (The ear saver is an accessory that can be used to make masks more comfortable by removing pressure from the ears. This may not be important for the average person who temporarily wears a mask while diving into the store, but it is very relevant for health care providers, who often have to wear a mask throughout the 12-hour shift.)

Nation of Makersa non-profit organization founded to support the “manufacturers” community – a subculture focused on new hardware design and tampering, often using 3D printing – estimates that almost A total of 50 million PPE units and other medical supplies were produced to respond to Covid-19 by local additive-producing groups by January 2021. That’s an eye-catching number – though still small in the context of domestic mass production and overall demand within the health system; in March 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services entered into an agreement with companies for 600 million N95 masks delivered over a period of 18 months.

Stopping, not the solution

As those numbers say, 3D printing is small in itself. It is not a long-term solution to meet the demand for PPE in the health system and will never be as cost-effective as traditional mass production. Its main value is that it can be done locally, with minimal delivery time, and can temporarily fill a gap to buy time for larger-scale production and delivery to make up for the backlog.

3D printing also has value as a means of prototyping new PPE designs. Digital design can be quickly revised during the additive manufacturing process to try new approaches. One significant success during this pandemic was stopgap surgical maska sterilization mask with a replaceable filter that meets FDA standards and is currently undergoing the CDC’s NIOSH approval process for N95 masks.

Other promising projects have come up prototype phase; in particular, the Bellus3D application (which is unfortunately now it goes out) hoped to offer an individual face scanning service that would be combined with 3D printing to create custom reusable mask and sterilizationor an adjustable plastic frame to enhance the seal of the surgical mask.

But additive production is just that: additive. Preparations for the next pandemic will require supply chain reform and an increase in emergency supplies for both conventionally produced PPE.

The list of wishes for the upgrade is long: moving away from delivery on time when it comes to PPE; tax breaks or hospital regulations to encourage PPE production throughout the year; and new mechanisms to improve the visibility of PPE stocks and chains in hospitals and states, among many others.

But now we understand the limits of 3D printing in emergencies and how much more we can move them. This time it almost certainly saved some lives, and could be even more important in the next pandemic.

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