Make4Covid initiative unites 3D printing pros to make PPE


Library staff prep 3D printers at Library 21c. - COURTESY OF PIKES PEAK LIBRARY DISTRICT
  • Courtesy of Pikes Peak Library District
  • Library staff prep 3D printers at Library 21c.

A recent inspector general's report for the Department of Health and Human Services outlines several challenges faced by health care personnel responding to the COVID-19 pandemic across the U.S.

One of the most widespread challenges, the report found, is the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) — such as masks and gowns — to keep medical workers safe as they treat patients suffering severe symptoms from the novel coronavirus.

"To secure the necessary PPE, equipment, and supplies, hospitals reported turning to new, sometimes un-vetted, and non-traditional sources of supplies and medical equipment," the report says. "To try to make existing supplies of PPE last, hospitals reported conserving and reusing single-use/disposable PPE, including using or exploring ultra-violet (UV) sterilization of masks or bypassing some sanitation processes by having staff place surgical masks over N95 masks."

Hospitals are having to address this supply chain problem in novel ways. While many people in the community want to help by donating handmade masks or other equipment, facilities in the overwhelmed health care system don't have time to vet whether each shipment of PPE is safe.

That's where Colorado's Make4COVID comes in. The group, which started at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus, now has more than 1,200 members working together to 3D print PPE, says Omar Soubra, a spokesperson for the group.

It's not only professional "makers" (who know how to use the 3D printers and laser cutters). The effort takes a village.

"There’s a core team, basically, that has medical professionals [who] validate what we’re doing from a medical perspective — so they approve the design, the decontamination procedures, everything that goes into those aspects," Soubra explains, "and then we have professional industrial designers that have joined the team and that are making the tweaks and the adjustments needed or required by the doctors depending on what their feedback was."

Also on board: supply chain managers, engineers, marketers and scientific advisors.

Make4Covid transports a load of PPE to the Melissa Memorial Hospital in Holyoke. - COURTESY OF MAKE4COVID
  • Courtesy of Make4Covid
  • Make4Covid transports a load of PPE to the Melissa Memorial Hospital in Holyoke.

Currently, Soubra says, the group is focusing on manufacturing face shields, which consist of a 3D-printer headband portion that's attached to a transparent shield produced using laser cutters. People with access to and knowledge of these machines follow a set of standard operating procedures "so they don't contaminate the parts," Soubra says.

Make4Covid is concentrating its efforts on helping rural hospitals, which Soubra says face the most severe supply chain issues.

As part of the effort, the Pikes Peak Library District has distributed several of its larger 3D printers to makers in the community, who are making face shield parts in the safety of their own homes.

CEO and Chief Librarian John Spears says the library district also plans to have staff use sewing machines and smaller 3D printers to help in the effort. (Read more about this in our April 8 issue.)

Make4Covid has partnered with Angel Flight West and the Civil Air Patrol to deliver shipments of PPE to rural hospitals, Soubra says.

People interested in supporting the effort can visit Online, there's instructions about how to make the items and what materials are needed.

“Colorado hospitals have been overwhelmed by the preparation and response to the COVID-19 crisis," Andrew Henderson, one of the Make4Covid founders and lab manager of Inworks, said in a recent statement. "Makers and people who want to help have been reaching out to them, but most medical professionals are not makers. They have needs, but no time to repeat these to all the people who want to help.

"Make4Covid is here to centralize the needs, remotely organize teams and systems and manufacture solutions. If you are maker, tinkerer, if you own a 3D printer, a laser cutter or other manufacturing equipment, join our effort and help as a community.”

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