by Jalal Awan
In early March, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) “are leaving doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients.” In response to global shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) at the onset of the pandemic, hobbyists, community groups and manufacturers around the world turned to 3D printing to fabricate items like face shields and face masks. High-quality filtering masks such as the N95, generally must pass stringent requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, during the pandemic, CDC and FDA guidelines outlined acceptable alternatives and improvisation to the standard PPE within limits.
Considering these new guidelines, 3D printed face shields gained traction among hobbyists and manufacturers alike. Tech companies like Czech-based Prusa Research began sharing open-source face shield designs, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to download and use the free design. The shield consists of a 3D printed headband, coupled with a transparent piece of plastic for the face shield itself and curved at the bottom using a custom-sized 3D printed end-piece. The ability to manufacture ‘one-offs’ allows printing customized, reusable components of 3D face masks, using individual face scans via open-source face scanning apps. According to preliminary research on 3D printed designs, print times with basic 3D printers vary linearly with filament weights – and can range from 60 minutes to 300 minutes apiece. As a pilot test at the Tech and Narrative Lab, we produced a simple 2-component face shield design, using recyclable PLA filament and a Dremel3D printer in just over 60 minutes. As additive manufacturing technologies advance, more specialized printers are expected to reduce print times and improve efficiency, resulting in faster prototyping cycles.