Many 3D printing companies have powerful networks and now is the time to unleash them to help during this time of crisis.
In this crisis many companies and individuals wish to contribute, and those with 3D printers on hand feel the need to make something to help.
The major barrier seems to be coordination and focus on practical, certified designs. It’s easy to find something to produce, but is it actually the right thing to make? Is it a certified design? Could you be making more trouble than solving problems?
It’s really hard to tell at times.
Cloud 3D Printing
One way several companies are reacting is to make use of their existing 3D printing networks, which have been built to use cloud computing. This technology can connect multiple machines and allow coordinated production.
There are several different forms of networks, ranging from highly centralized, such as that of 3DPrinterOS, to more decentralized models such as Ultimaker uses, where local networks are easily built with that company’s latest equipment.
The main benefits of cloud 3D printing is the ability to manage print jobs. They can be prepared, queued, tracked, monitored and recorded. There are significant statistical analyses that can be done after the fact, something that’s very challenging on standalone equipment.
3D Printing Networks During COVID-19
The existence of these networks allows for the possibility of coordinated activity to assist in the production of required medical equipment and components. A central authority could perform the work of certifying parts and materials, and then dispatch the job to network participants for possible production.
Several companies are doing various forms of this today.
One is Ultimaker, which has created a 3D printing world map where Ultimaker networked installations can display their availability to produce parts. There are new entries added to the map each day.
Another company that’s leveraging their network is Italy-based Roboze. The company began building a network two years ago, and now has a considerable production capacity that’s distributed and can produce high-temperature parts using PEEK material.
They announced their initial results:
“In a few hours, hundreds of valves were printed through the Roboze 3D Parts division, which will be supplied free of charge for artificial respirators for Covid-19 patients. However, Roboze’s commitment does not stop here. In fact, the company will continue the production having accepted other requests from other Italian hospitals and around the world.”
Stratasys launched what they call the “Stratasys Coalition for Face Shield Production With 3D Printing”. They have a design ready to 3D print and are accepting applications to participate. They explain:
“Any 3D printing shop that wishes to help print at least 100 visors can fill out an online form to be invited to join the effort. For the U.S., Stratasys is using its GrabCAD Shop work order management software to assign orders from healthcare systems to each coalition member. In Europe, the company is serving as a hub to connect service bureaus with those requesting help, and has fielded offers and requests in most of the larger countries. The company also has posted the full face shield printing and assembly instructions for anyone to produce face shields on their own.”
They’ve signed up several major manufacturers to the program, including Toyota, Boeing and several universities, all of whom likely have significant Stratasys equipment on hand. Stratasys says the coalition should be able to produce at least 16,000 face shields per week.
I am aware of several other major developments of a similar nature that have not yet been announced.
Other 3D Printing Networks
My question now is, “What is your network doing?”
There are many 3D print companies, and quite a few have substantial networks of 3D printing and manufacturing capacity. I’m wondering if these companies are able to participate in a similar way.
For many manufacturers and organizations who happen to have 3D printing equipment, they may not be aware of the need or process for producing some needed item. It seems to me that the best way to encourage them to begin making things that are actually needed is through the vendor of their equipment.
I ask that those 3D printing companies with networks consider choosing something useful to contribute to crisis resolution, and try to leverage your network to produce that item. Prepare a certified design with medical professionals and deploy it to your network.