3D Printing in the time of COVID-19

The last two 6 weeks has been quite rough. We as a society have had to make a lot of changes from how we engage with one another to how we work, learn and play. This appears to be this generation's watershed moment and one of the unsung technologies that is playing an important part in helping us move forward (mostly unbeknownst to most) is the 3D printer.

As hospitals have been inundated with those infected, supplies have increasingly become scarce and the need for face shields, respirators, masks and gowns have grown dramatically. This is where educators (who have access to their printers), makers, hobbyists and 3D printer companies have stepped up to help try and reduce the strain on the such needed supplies (face shields and respirator parts). Though there has been designs out there to build prototype respirator parts (none of which I believe as of this post have been approved for mass consumption), the design of the face shield has been the main target of the 3D printing community.

These easy to print face shield bands coupled with a polycarbonate shield have been produced in qualities that have aided many local hospitals and EMS services. PRUSA Research has provided a downloadable STL file that can be printed and even printed in a stack to increase capacity and production. Other STLs exist on sites such as Thingaverse which can be modified to meet the needs of the individual. As of this post, there has been some discussion on the "safety and sterility" of the face shields. This post is not about validating or condemning such claims. What is important is that the 3D printer is now being recognized beyond the "cool machine" that can produce plastic "toys", it is now demonstrating it's value in the area of rapid prototyping and development within the mainstream. It will be interesting to see if hospitals and industries not necessarily prototypical targets for 3D printing technology begins to look at these devices in a different light.

I proposed to my students over this "experiment of home based learning" to create a device that can be used to limit the contact of a person's hand on objects that are widely use by the public. Although this may sound like a novelty lesson, it will however produce some interesting designs and thought processes that just 2 months ago were not popping on anybody's radar. It's through devestating events, situations and needs that some of our greatest advancements and outcomes have been created. I believe this event (which will not be the last) has helped the 3D printer mature into a device that we in the community knew it was long before "social distancing" became "word of the year".