The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the way we live. From videoconferencing for remote work to online grocery shopping, more and more individuals across the globe are adopting new technologies to virtually every industry. 3D printing is no exception.
PPE shortages have created alarming headlines as doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers struggle to remain safe while treating patients. With supply chains disrupted, 3D printing has been highlighted as a potential solution to these shortages. Let’s look at some of the current use cases for 3D printed products, particularly when it comes to making face masks and face shields.
Face Shields For Healthcare Workers
One of the more recent innovations in 3D printing’s role in healthcare is in creating face shields - polyurethane sheeting attached to a visor worn on a healthcare worker’s head. This creates a barrier between the user and a potentially-ill patient. At least one peer-reviewed study has noted several advantages with regards to face shields, compared to masks, goggles, and other related equipment. They can be easily disinfected, manufactured inexpensively, and are simple to put on or remove, with no impact on speaking or facial expressions.
These benefits have encouraged companies to expand the production of face shields. Tech giant Apple has recently begun manufacturing these products on their own, with plans to ship 1 million each week to the hospitals where they’re needed most.
However, the issue of supply chain disruption is a constant concern. 3D printers handle products like face shields fairly easily - they’re simply designed and inexpensively produced, making them a good fit for the technology. The US Navy has recently announced they’ll be 3D printing face shields to meet demand, which will certainly invigorate further interest in private sector use of 3D printing for this purpose.
Face Masks: Facts & Myths
There has been a good deal of news coverage in regard to 3D printed face masks. These are products made of cloth or other fabrics and are worn across the face to collect droplets and air particles from the wearer’s nose and mouth, thereby reducing the spread of infection. However, they are not the same as a respirator, such as the N95 mask, which is meant to filter the air a user breathes.
There are strict standards in place that dictate how masks and respirators should be used and manufactured. The FDA has noted that 3D-printed masks are unlikely to offer the same protective capabilities as N95 respirators and FDA-approved surgical masks. However, the rapid pace of the crisis has led to some changes. The FDA recently approved its first 3D-printed mask, meant to provide liquid barrier protection from the coronavirus. As the fight against COVID-19 continues, new developments in regards to 3D face mask printing are likely.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) also maintains a 3D print exchange where creators can upload their own prototypes for testing and clinical review. This exchange currently includes dozens of prototypes, including some that are approved for clinical use.
At Scandy, we’re dedicated to helping users take part in this 3D revolution. We’ve reduced the price of our STL Maker app so users can scan their faces using a compatible iPhone or iPad, in order to create face masks with a customized fit. If you’d like to try STL Maker for yourself, check out the app in the App Store.
The Future of 3D Printing In Healthcare
New products and innovations in the healthcare sector require intense testing and oversight to ensure safety and regulatory compliance. While 3D printing can offer a wide range of uses, the pace of change must be measured carefully.
The CDC now recommends that the general public wear cloth face coverings to inhibit the spread of disease. These can be made at home with a bandana, but 3D-printed masks may offer a better and more comfortable fit when used with scanning technology like STL Maker.
For healthcare workers, mass-manufactured, FDA-approved masks are still the priority, but the NIH’s 3D print exchange has already put dozens of print files available to the public, including one clinically-tested stopgap face mask.These kinds of contributor-led exchanges - and the 3D-printed products they produce - are a strong, future-minded method of elevating the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Want to get involved in the future of 3D printing? Check out our most popular apps and see what you can do with this cutting-edge technology.
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