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A Crisis of Short Supply Addressed by 3D Printing

A Call to The Supply Chain Community

Additive manufacturing can impact the end to end global supply chain. For one, on-demand manufacturing rather than traditional manufacturing can keep less physical inventory on-hand. Likewise, manufacturers can make small changes to digital files quickly at no additional charge. This provides more agility in the manufacturing process. Indeed, manufacturing times are improving. 3D printing companies are helping during this time of the pandemic, when supply chains are disrupted and there are shortages of essential medical equipment.

US hospitals have been overwhelmed by the volume of patients and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), like facemasks, gloves, eye protection, and clothing, putting frontliners at high risk. There’s also a shortage of testing swabs, kits, respirators, and ventilators that sometimes lead to rationing life-saving pieces of equipment and possibly re-using masks. Shortage will continue to place an emotional and physical strain on medical workers. The CDC recommends wearing masks, also in short supply, by the general public to slow down the spread, apart from the more important social distancing.

3D Printed Supplies

The 3D printing industry is helping to address these shortages. A few examples of how 3D printing is helping medical supply shortages.

Massachusetts-based Formlabs, a manufacturer of 3D printers, is now using 250 printers in its Ohio factory to manufacture 100,000 nasal swabs for testing each day. NASCAR has put on hold its manufacture of composite parts of stock cars to do PPEs for healthcare workers, running 18 hours a day making face shields to donate to hospitals. Ford is working with GE Healthcare to build air-pressured ventilators, aiming 50,000 units in the next 100 days. Chevrolet is partnering with Ventec Life Systems to build ventilators and produce more than 50,000 face masks per day. Toyota is building face shields and collaborating with medical device companies to speed the manufacturing of ventilators.

A Spanish consortium (Consorci de la Zona Franca (CZFB), HP, Leitat, SEAT, Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa (CST), and the Parc Taulí Hospital, Sabadell) designed the 3D printable respirator that works as an emergency device, aiming between 50 and 100 units on a daily basis. Copper3D has put online an open source file for a 3D-printable N-95 mask.

Supply chain practitioners know the potential for additive manufacturing to print spare parts as needed, rather than having to store parts that are rarely ordered. This pandemic may open more supply chain practitioners to the possibilities of 3D printing.