Responding to COVID-19 in 3D: A Community of Creators Innovate to Provide Critical Resources

By Jason Anderson, Technology Director
6/5/2020

In the uncertainty and need created by COVID-19, it has been great to see the variety of resourceful, compassionate responses by so many, both abroad and here at Insight. The past few months provided an opportunity for a team of us at Insight to make a difference in an unexpected way: 3D printing.
 
3D printing — the process of making three-dimensional objects from a digital file — is an amazing form of additive manufacturing. The first time I printed something, I sat and watched with childlike amazement for the entire hour it took to print my project. The 3D community shares this passion in collaborative ways, constantly exchanging prototypes, new ideas, or revelations.
 
When the pandemic hit and the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) became a real issue, our 3D printing community realized we had a unique chance to use our personal hobby to produce PPE for first responders and healthcare providers.
 
The 3D community at Insight is a reasonably small group but a tight one. We’re always sharing projects or helping each other with issues (and, let's face it, trying to “out-geek” each other). We knew we had to get involved in the COVID-19 response efforts.
 
We began in March with face shields. The design was simple and allowed us to make adjustable headbands that attach to standard overhead projector sheets to create the shield component. We also started making respirators by printing masks and frames designed to hold a filter.
 
In May, we branched out to ear savers — bands worn around the head that attach to the straps of a mask, alleviating the pressure and friction of straps on a person’s ears. These make a huge difference for workers who need to wear a mask continually. As an added bonus, our group enjoyed experimenting with fun designs for these, bringing some joy to what’s often a stressful time.

Since the beginning of our project, we’ve been able to print and distribute hundreds of much-needed protective items:
 
  • More than 300 face shields
  • More than 400 ear savers
  • Dozens of respirators
 
The recipients of our work include local front-line workers like doctors, nurses, and retirement home staff. Additionally, some of our face shields have traveled to doctors around the world through organizations like Masks for Docs. The ear savers we’ve made have been distributed throughout our community, to stylists and barbers, clerks, and our family and friends.
 
Throughout this time, our Insight 3D printing community has had an open dialogue going about what is working, what isn’t, where PPE is being sent, new models, material locations, and stories. It has been a privilege to use our skills to make a difference, in the little ways we can right now.