3D printing certainly isn’t a perfect technology. However, as it continues to develop, it is beginning to show how useful it can be. In a time where traditional manufacturing methods are falling short, 3D printing has become a vital resource.
As the COVID-19 pandemic decimates the supply of medical equipment for frontline healthcare workers, many volunteer hobbyists are firing up their 3D printers to help out. People are printing everything from ear-saving mask fasteners to complex parts like face shields and ventilator valves. Thanks to these volunteers, the necessary parts are becoming available in a way that most people probably wouldn’t have thought of.
This is what 3D printing hobbyists are doing to aid in the COVID-19 response.
Wearing a mask all day is horrible. Yet, that’s what doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers are doing for extended shifts every day. Typical face masks with elastic ear loops can get painful since they dig into the tissue behind the ears.
Many people have turned to a simple solution to solve this problem. Small plastic hooks that look like the back of a baseball cap let workers attach the loops of their mask around the back of their head rather than behind their ears. This makes it a little easier to wear a mask all day.
In terms of 3D printing, ear savers are fairly simple. Just about anyone can print one with files pulled from free repositories like Thingiverse. Indeed, that’s exactly what hobbyists are doing. Countless stories have emerged of people printing ear savers at home to donate to their local hospital.
Although masks are great, many frontline healthcare workers are also wearing plastic face shields to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Essentially, these consist of a headband and a clear plastic sheet that attaches in the front.
Unfortunately, there has been a shortage of face shields for healthcare workers. In response, many hobbyists have started 3D printing the headband component. It’s far easier to find a piece of plastic for the front than finding a fitted headband.
Since the part prints relatively quickly, volunteers have been able to produce them in mass quantities.
Staying home is the best thing to do right now. With non-essential businesses shut down, that isn’t too challenging. However, for those that do have to leave the house, minimizing physical contact with public surfaces is a must.
Some clever 3D-printed tools are helping many people do just that. Most of these look like small hooks or giant bottle openers. They typically have curved ends, pointers, and possibly even an ergonomic handle.
People can then use them to do things like open doors, press elevator buttons, and operate ATM machines without actually touching them.
If you have a 3D printer, you can also help. Many organizations around the United States are looking for 3D-printed gear for healthcare workers.
One great place to start is the Thingiverse 3D Printing Volunteer Connect. The forum helps connect agencies in need with makers who are willing to produce parts.
The National Institutes of Health has also set up a 3D print exchange. There, makers can upload and download STL files for 3D printing. It includes the items discussed above and much more.