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Yes! – 3D Printing PPE For Medical Staff and Frontline Workers is a HORRIBLE idea but here is why I will continue to do it


Over the past 3 weeks, I have been running 2-3 of my 3D printers almost non-stop to crank out face shields, masks and ear savers that are being donated to first responders and other frontline workers in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As of this posting, I have personally donated over 150 Face Shields and 30 face masks at no cost to those who are working at the front line to help to get this pandemic under control. I have had several people comment that I am wasting my time with printing PPE for first responders and I wanted to respond to some of these comments:

It is inefficient as major factories can produce hundreds in the time it takes you to make 1 single face shield

This is very true but here is the problem – factories are currently in a state that they cannot produce nearly enough face shields to keep up with current demand. There are hospitals where Doctors and Nurses are resorting to wearing plastic bags as gowns and using other makeshift masks and face shields in wake of the shortage of supplies. Yes, it is true that I can only make a relatively small number of face shields per day, I can say that the doctors and nurses at the hospitals that my supplies have gone to have been incredibly grateful as they previously had none and the waiting list to get more from the manufacturers can be weeks or longer. I like to think that the 150+ shields I have personally donated have saved at least one life of a frontline medical worker who is helping to save people who were infected.

It is not just me but the entire maker community has stepped up with thousands of others who are utilizing their 3D Printers to help fill the gap until the commercial supply chain can recover.

I will not agree that it is a waste of my time as I do not need to sit in front of the printer to babysit the print jobs. I have worked at home full time for the past 2 years and spend a few minutes every 90 minutes to reset the prints. Less than a hour a day if you add it up. I would love to get to the point where I no longer have to print PPE but I will continue as long as there is a demand – 3D printing was never designed for mass manufacturing after all.

3D Printing PPE is too expensive to justify the cost of making PPE

I completely agree that 3D Printing is expensive and time consuming but in this case, I am the one who is personally absorbing the costs of the masks that are donated to first responders and other frontline workers. I estimate that I will have spent at least $400 to produce the 1,000 shields that I am aiming for and that is not counting masks and ear savers. This is a sacrifice that myself and other makers are currently making in order to help save lives – after what is the price tag of a life saved? If it is a mere $400, sign me up to save them all.

3D Printed PPE is not sterile

This is a true statement but I also doubt that the trash bags and other makeshift PPE being used by desperate medical workers is any more sterile. I can say I personally take measures to keep my prints as sterile as possible including washing hands between tasks and promptly bagging my prints in a sealed plastic bag until they are used. In many cases, my 3D printed PPE can be washed and placed under UV light.

Most Hospitals and Private Medical Employers have policies on the type of PPE they accept

This is true and unfortunately there are several hospitals and private medical employers who are unwilling to accept the PPE offered, which is a decision they make. No PPE is ever forced on any Hospital or Private Medical Practice however there are so many who are willing to accept the materials that it is impossible for me to keep up with the demand. Some hospitals have chose to suspend this policy to protect their staff members but other hospitals are facing issues where medical staff are walking out in protest because the lack of PPE. Hospitals and Private Medical Employers will need to make a choice whether it better to put their employees life at risk or to suspend this policy. We need doctors and nurses to be protecting patients without worrying about infecting themselves or family.

There are also other places aside from medical providers looking for PPE including Grocery Store Chains and other essential retail and service workers. My primary focus is on medical staff but I will also make sure some of these make it to other front line workers.

3D Printed PPE is not as good as commercial PPE

Normally I would agree but as there is a global shortage of PPE, something is better than nothing when you have nothing. If you do have access to commercial PPE. you should definitely use it but if you lack access to PPE then a 3D printed or other home-made option is far better than nothing. 3D printed PPE is not without flaws as the designs have not been tested to the same extent commercial products are and variances in the printer itself can cause wild inconsistencies in the quality of the prints. A 3D Printed Mask will never be as good as a N95 mask but it’s better than nothing and a 3D printed face shield is not as good as a commercial face shield but again it is far better then holding a ziplock bag over your face.