Face shields for frontline COVID-19 fighters made using 3D printing and injection moulding

WION Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India Apr 16, 2020, 04.40 PM(IST) Written By: Sidharth MP

Face shields for Frontline Covid fighters Photograph:( WION )

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The trend gradually picked up pace and the open-source design of the face shield opened up a world of possibilities for anyone who owned or operated a 3D printer.

The prolonged lockdown has brought about a set of challenges on one front, but on the other, it has also offered unique and innovative solutions such as the use of 3D printing and Injection molding to help augment the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) that are being used by doctors, nurses, policemen and other frontline COVID-19 fighters. 

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Much before the lockdown was announced in India and various other parts of the world, there were several reports and hoarding and black marketing of masks and protective gear, which eventually led to an acute shortage.

Manufacture and transport of these PPEs too were badly hit due to the stoppage of manufacturing centers around the globe and the further curbs on logistics. 

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That’s when 3D printing came into play, around mid-March, when many companies and enthusiasts in European nations that were badly hit started experimenting on 3D printing a type of face shield, that can be over and above masks for the healthcare professionals.

The trend gradually picked up pace and the open-source design of the face shield opened up a world of possibilities for anyone who owned or operated a 3D printer.

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Chennai-based Surendranath Reddy, whose company 3Ding manufactures 3D printers and ships them across India says that he has been using the printers in his inventory and manufacturing such masks, which are being distributed on a goodwill basis to healthcare professionals and police, while all selling it to large hospitals.

Besides masks, the company also has come up with splitters that can be used on life-saving equipment such as ventilators, thus enabling two or four beneficiaries from a single ventilator. 

“Initially we were depending on 3D printing and our clients too used the same technique by downloading the design & specifications to print as many face shields as possible. However, we could only print 3 shields per hour and had to meet the large demand amidst the crisis. 3D printing helped us get feedback from medical professionals, alter and finalize the design. After a week, 3D printing didn’t seem viable and we had to look for alternatives to match the volume”, Surendranath, CEO, 3Ding told WION. 

The face shields are said to offer added protection to the frontline workers who come in close contact with Corona patients. When doctors and patients interact, there is always the chance of aerosol spread and the face shield offers protection against it. 

“While 3D printing is a new technique and helps us to get quick outputs for small quantities, we had to invest around 5 lakhs in the traditional method of injection molding to ensure that we can manufacture in large numbers. After our first 1000 face shields were 3D printed, we started using the injection molding and started making anywhere between 5,000-10,000 pieces every day” Reddy added. 

On the availability of raw materials for 3D printing and injection moulding, amid the lockdown, Surendranath said that his company had nearly exhausted all their stock of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and are gradually managing to source it in small quantities. “Using PET means that they can be sterilized and reused until they remain physically intact, and also these shields barely weigh 15grams.”