If you have been wanting to print and supply 3D printed face masks to your local hospital or health provider during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few things you need to consider first.
If you have been following us for some time, you would be familiar with the Makerspace related articles that our staff writer, Steph Piper, contributes. This month, Steph teamed up with Simon Turner from the Open Manufacturers Alliance of Australia to describe how makers all over Australia (and the world) are printing 3D printed face masks in their own homes and supplying to hospitals.
Steph and Simon provide a bird’s-eye view of the situation from a Queensland perspective, outlining how you can help and get involved Australia-wide.
2020 will be remembered as the year COVID-19 emerged with an infection rate that disrupted life and businesses globally. As this pandemic hits our Australian shores, it has become evident that there is a lack of infrastructure and preparedness to keep our hospital front-liners protected as they treat infected patients.
You just have to watch the news to hear that there is a global shortage of effective PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to guard against this pandemic threat. In addition, a recent survey released by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) reported that 70% of Queensland doctors reported having insufficient PPE.
Australian makers and manufacturers are stepping up to the task, re-tooling and creating hand sanitiser, face masks and more.
Open Manufacturing Alliance Australia (OMA-AUS)
Prusa 3D Face Masks
Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies
One of the most effective ways for healthcare providers to protect themselves is with a face shield. Face shields are essentially a piece of clear plastic worn in front of the face that acts as a “splash-guard”, protecting the eyes, nose, and mouth from a patient’s cough, sneeze or spit (even if unintentional while speaking face-to-face).
Face shield frames can be printed on 3D printers, including printers found in many maker’s homes. Because of this, there is a global response from hobbyists around the world to meet the need for PPE, all collaborating together to provide a fast response. Australians are no exception and have stepped up to assist frontline health workers in their community.
Health Acceptance of community-built face shields
At the start of April, Metro North Hospital and Health Service in Brisbane put out a call for 3,000 face shields in three weeks, and they met that deadline in five days thanks to donations. Similarly, at the time of writing this article, Metro South in Brisbane is receiving about 500 face shields a day. In regional Queensland, the hospital in Bundaberg has requested 1500 face masks, and Mackay Hospital is receiving 100 per week.
Why not 3D print face masks & respirators?
Unlike the success of community sourced face shields, face masks are more problematic. Face masks cannot make a good seal on your face when manufactured with rigid materials. A poor fitting rigid face mask could be worse than not wearing one at all.
Other challenges with rigid face masks include the difficulty to sterilise effectively for continued use. 3D printed face masks may have a place in personal use, but should not be donated to health care providers without their approval. Hand-sewn cotton masks provide a more comfortable way to protect others from yourself, however, these do not guarantee the safety of contracting or spreading viruses.
What materials should face shields be printed in?
Speak to your health provider about how they plan to use the face shields. For a disposable or near disposable solution (a few uses before throwing away), PLA plastic will be fine. However, if they would like to reuse the plastic and plan to use a cold or hot autoclave cycle to sterilise these, PETG or ABS is a better choice. It is best to consult your healthcare provider on their actual need prior to donating. The Prusa face shield website has published up-to-date information on the best sterilisation methods.
Which design is best?
There is a seemingly unending choice of face shield designs to sort through. Two designs that are being used most frequently are the Prusa R3 design and the 3DVerkstan design.
The Prusa R3 design is sturdy, keeps the faceplate flush, and is a strong, durable choice, however, its print time is around 1.5 hours depending on your 3D printer. It also requires additional materials and assembly.
The 3DVerkstan design is thinner and quicker to prin (around 20 minutes). It is also compatible with A4 clear PVC plastic that can be made to fit with a hole punch, however, they are slightly flimsier.
In Australia, the Brisbane-based company, 3D One, has created a variation of these designs, which have been successfully registered with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), generally a costly and lengthy process. They were able to achieve this quickly as they were already providing TGA registered 3D printed products for cancer treatments.
The TGA has also responded to assist local supplies of PPE by creating a temporary legal exemption for facial PPE created during the pandemic, which applies to public hospitals only.
If you are intending to provide 3D prints, work closely with your healthcare providers, and provide prototypes for them to choose between while explaining the pros and cons of both designs. You will also need to be competent with your 3D printing abilities and have a reliable printer before committing to something you can’t adequately provide.
Should you charge a cost?
It is generous to donate, but not to the point where you become too far out of pocket. Businesses, for example, should at least be charging a cost price to cover for materials used. A request for printing 100 face shields could easily turn into much larger numbers, making it unsustainable for the average maker to provide. We need to ensure our small businesses are utilised sustainably to ensure a continued supply of materials and viability of our local businesses. If your healthcare finances do not have the flexibility to pay for these items on a short time line, it may also be better to donate the items and seek sponsorship for the project to cover the cost price.
How can you help?
If you are in a regional area;
- Find other makers and form a response group
- The Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies team Facebook group has some great resources
In the cities, search for ‘calls for donations’ from health services.
In the Darling Downs PPE project, local area healthcare centres and local health charities are being overwhelmed with donations of hand-sewn face masks, baked goods, and other items. Many of these donations while well-intentioned, create more work to organise. This could potentially overwhelm these centres with a product they may not want or need. You are also best not to travel to healthcare centres in person, try to find out if drop-off points have been identified.
Get involved with the Australia-wide Alliance
If you can’t find any local groups in your area, the Australia-wide group, Open Manufacturing Alliance Australia (OMA-AUS) can link you up with your closest manufacturers and organise logistics to get shields to your local health organisations. So far, OMA-AUS has donated thousands of face shields to meet the needs of hospitals around the country. OMA-AUS has also created a streamlined invoicing point to make it easy to pay for a single product made by partnering with many businesses to collaboratively support frontline health by sustainably supplying goods. Find out more at www.oma-aus.com
This situation is moving fast, and the best way to make this product is through mass manufacturing technologies like injection moulding, a process that scales up production to make 1,000’s of units daily, resulting in a cheaper, consistent and reliable product. However, there is a significant delay before mass manufacturing can be retooled to create a positive impact. Agile teams of makers and small businesses can step up to immediately provide assistance now. The immediate response from a collaborative initiative like OMA-AUS can produce over a million face shields now, before the mass manufacturing business can even retool. The value of PPE now has an increased impact in the fight against the pandemic spread.
With the popularity of hobbyist level 3D printing at a desktop, we are now realising its power as a decentralised, local manufacturing capability and the support it can bring to our local supply chain networks. It especially shines through in this time of need – the average maker can step up and provide goods for their local communities, not otherwise possible through traditional methods. The tools to change the trajectory of pandemic spread are in our hands.