There are various tech organizations, universities, and independent 3D print enthusiasts who happen to have their own set of 3D printer machines are proactively taking a positive response to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) being experienced by healthcare workers amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
There are also reported cases that even complex and highly-sensitive hospital medical paraphernalia and supplies are in scarcity but thankfully they are being covered by these groups by making/manufacturing them on their own.
3D printing of PPE kits, in general, is fairly cheap to make. You can even turn everything around in a span of a few hours on each 3D printer machine.
A dedicated community can take charge of this and distribute the same locally to parties who require them through the use of a centralised distributor/supplier. Now, can we take this as a viable solution to the current shortage of PPE supplies for the frontliners?
It is not as simple as that, so to speak.
While, needless to say, we have a high demand now for PPEs – we have several issues to take into account.
There is no official laid out guidance for healthcare workers to reference with respect to the use of 3D-printed PPEs or protective kits.
When the BBC news organisation tried to reach out to several medical organisations, the NHS and the government departments responded positively. But none had the slightest notion of knowing whether they are advisable for the use of healthcare workers or not.
We have several types of 3D printing machines and alongside those are an array of materials with which they can print.
Both the materials and the printing machines vary in terms of suitability, quality, and price for different projects. Like for instance, some materials may result in the creation of a rather more porous product. Hence, making it more challenging in terms of keeping it clean.
Template sharing and modification of the same in the 3D printing community to produce PPE kits, not what they will produce will bear the CE Kitemark, which is tantamount to the European standard for safety. This only signifies the absence of a quality benchmark.
This explains the reason why you can’t sell them. Therefore, their makers would not be able to offer them at all in exchange for cash.
There is also no way to guarantee that these products are sterilized due to questionable production and packaging. Hence, they are given out with strict and careful instruction that they can be used only once, and be discarded off properly afterward.
While the hands of insiders, experts, and professionals are on this, we also have a handful of enthusiasts who are taking good advantage of their very own 3D printers at home. And we have good demand, too. According to 3DCrowd UK, as of this writing, they have pending requests for 350,000 pieces of face shields.
There are 3D printers who decided to take things a step further. Isinnova, an Italian firm that made headlines from last month when it announced that it successfully created 3D-printed ventilator tubes for use in a hospital in Brescia. This region is badly taken down by the Coronavirus scare.
The said 3D printed tubes can be used straight for 8 hours only at a time. Unfortunately, they will not be able to send in replacements right away.
While 3D printed items may prove to be of substantial help during this time of the great pandemic, the safety of usage and designs are under scrutiny.
At this point, we have very little visibility in terms of the outcomes on the use of such 3D printed components. They are bound to remain classified as uncertified medical devices, and for that reason, they are taken advantage of with great caution. As much as possible, consider them as a last resort.