As the coronavirus outbreak spreads globally, 3D printing firms have been stepping in to help fill the need for everything from respirator parts to touch-free door handles.
The moves come as governments call on companies to shut down most non-essential manufacturing, automakers shutter assembly lines and more cancellations pile up.
Silicon Valley 3D printing specialist Carbon Inc. said it's seeing the need for even more production and is asking companies, governments and others to reach out with requests for the company to fulfill urgent production needs for polymer parts.
Joseph DeSimone, co-founder and chairman of Carbon, said that during this pandemic now, and in preparation for future interruptions, it is essential that global supply chains are diversified and adaptable. That opens the need for more adaptable production.
"The escalating global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exposes vulnerabilities related to supply chains and what can happen when supply chains are not adaptable," DeSimone told Plastics News in an email. "As the world faces increasing medical supply shortages, additive manufacturing technologies can help meet critical production needs by avoiding problems that traditional supply chains continue to experience due to regional shut-downs and global transportation disruptions."
Carbon's large network of contracted manufacturing partners — 52 of them in 10 countries — can print parts on demand, he said. Carbon has resins with properties to make complex fluid and gas fixtures, electronic components and molds for other products including silicone diaphragms, pumping systems and elastomeric components.
"Carbon printers are all connected to the cloud, so when such a disruption occurs, even if one facility goes down, digital designs for parts can easily be shifted to and manufactured at another facility as needed," DeSimone said.
Meanwhile in Italy, which has surpassed China in its number of deaths due to the virus at 3,405 fatalities as of early on March 20, researchers and 3D printing startups in the country stepped in to meet demand for respirator valves at a hospital in Brescia after it ran out of the life-saving part.
Because the original manufacturer couldn't supply the parts in time, Isinnova — the Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems, an Italian research institute — and Lonati SpA worked together to provide the hospital with 100 3D printed valves in just 24 hours at no cost to the hospital, which had over 250 coronavirus patients in intensive care at the time, according to a BBC report.
HP said in a LinkedIn post March 18 that it is designing and preparing to produce essential medical products for first responders and hospitals, including ventilator valves, breathing filters and face mask clasps.
"We will make available any HP proprietary design files for these parts so they can be produced anywhere in the world," Ramon Pastor, interim president of HP 3D printing said in the post. "And we are also helping end-customers bridge potential supply chain interruptions by expanding distributed print-on-demand capabilities."