How to Use Your 3D Printer to Help Fight the Coronavirus

Coordinate your efforts with local health care providers

8Craig Gillam, digital fabrication supervisor in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville College of Architecture and Design’s Fab Lab, has produced hundreds of headbands, which will be fitted with acetate shields. Photo: University of Tennessee, Knoxville

ToTo address the enormous shortfall in personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic, 3D printing enthusiasts around the world have started to manufacture and donate makeshift equipment.

If you have a 3D printer, you can help too. OneZero spoke to three 3D printing experts currently making PPE for frontline health care workers. They shared instructions on how best to meet your community’s needs.

Talk to your local health care providers

All three experts who spoke with OneZero agreed that the first step for anyone who wants to help is to reach out to their county or local hospital to gauge their needs.

Isaac Budmen, who runs a custom 3D printer shop in upstate New York which has pivoted to manufacturing coronavirus supplies, suggests reaching out to the local hospital’s procurement manager or supply chain person.

“Find out if they need it, what they need, and work with them directly,” says Budmen.

It’s also important to speak to the health care professionals accepting the equipment to verify your designs. If you aren’t able to ensure that your manufacturing process is sanitary, or the materials that you’re using are right for the job, it might not be helpful.

Find a proven design

Much of the equipment used in hospitals and clinics must meet rigorous standards to make sure it’s safe to use in high-risk situations. Ryan Lawecki, who runs a 3D print shop in Toledo, Ohio, points out that the 3D printed respirator valves that recently garnered media attention are extremely difficult to make. Those valves were manufactured using a specialized method of 3D printing inaccessible to most hobbyists unless they have invested thousands into a specialized printer. So start with simple projects, and use proven designs.

There are already large communities prototyping and refining designs for PPE. The easiest items to produce are face shields, which consist of a headband that holds a rigid, transparent piece of plastic in front of the wearer’s entire face.

Prusa, a 3D printer company based in the Czech Republic, has published a face shield design already being used by many 3D printers around the world. Budmen has also uploaded a design.

Once you find a design, run it by your local health care provider. There’s no point in making masks they won’t use. Consider printing a demo unit and sending pictures to your contact.

Also, consider that many designs are not entirely 3D printed. You’ll likely need additional materials like elastic and transparent plastic to complete the devices.

“Find out if they need it, what they need, and work with them directly.”

Maintain a sanitary workplace

It’s crucial that any PPE sent to a health care facility is sanitary and clean when it reaches health care workers.

Wear protective equipment like a face shield or mask while assembling, and wear sterile gloves to minimize any contact with the equipment during assembly.

Prusa founder Josef Prusa showed off a sterilization station that his company built.

When in doubt, refer to the first tip: Your local health professionals likely know best practices, or can at least offer guidance with specific questions you might have.

Join a 3D printing network

Prusa and Budmen are also coordinating efforts and partnering with 3D printing enthusiasts on making medical supplies, and each has information on their websites on how to contact and register.

Ultimaker, another large 3D printer company, set up a form to connect medical institutions to individuals who can print supplies, and offers assistance in designing these parts or supplies.

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.

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