As the Coronavirus epidemic sweeps across the world, we’ve seen multiple grassroots initiatives emerge within the additive manufacturing community. From hobbyists printing face guards to corporations printing nasal swabs, it’s been incredible to watch as people stand up in the fight against COVID-19.
Our team has been engaged in this initiative, and partnering with leading medical institutions around the world to produce designs that will help in the fight. There’s a lot of noise around which files are best to print, so we’ll first take a look at how 3D printing can help during this difficult time and then share what Markforged is doing. We plan to publish a detailed knowledge base this week to provide a centralized source of information.
How 3D printing can help
We believe there are two advantages that 3D printing can provide during this time. The first is immediate triage of critical items, such as face guards and nasal swabs. A distributed 3D printer network can alleviate shortages of critical medical devices (particularly PPE) and consumer goods that have run out of stock by printing and distributing 3D printed parts locally.
The second is helping production lines to be flexible, especially with regards to supply chain issues. 3D printing gives manufacturers the flexibility they need to react to supply-side shocks and demand spikes by scaling their production line or eliminating supply chain bottlenecks. This can help existing manufacturers of critical parts to scale up production further or help manufacturers in different industries to quickly pivot towards manufacturing medical hardware.
The biggest takeaway we have is that the answer isn’t to 3D print everything. There may be times when it makes sense to print an entire ventilator, and it may also make more sense to print components that allow manufacturers to quickly change their production lines using low-volume 3D printed parts.
How is Markforged supporting these efforts?
As a global company based in a city that has been severely impacted by COVID-19, we feel compelled to step up and help. It is within our culture to give people the tools they need to reinvent the way things are made.
Seeking High-impact Projects
Since 3D printing provides a flexible platform that can be adapted to many different situations, we have seen a lot of fantastic ideas. We have assembled a task force within Markforged to identify the biggest impact initiatives our technology can solve.
The challenge is finding the right projects: for us, that means that they are proven in the medical community, impactful, and can be distributed and printed by a wide variety of 3D printers. We are looking to our customers, our channel partners, and our community to find people who can help. We’re hoping to publish a detailed knowledge base this week to provide a centralized source of information.
In general, we are following a two-phase approach. In the first phase, we are collaborating on the design, experiment, and prototype of creative solutions to the problems below. After we find solutions that are validated, we will look to scale efforts by activating our customers and partners through our global fleet of cloud-connected industrial printers.
We are trying to solve the following problems:
- Increase virus testing velocity. Everything starts with knowing where the virus is, and there are currently big bottlenecks in our ability to produce test kits.
- Rapid PPE. Finding creative ways to reuse existing supplies to keep our medical frontline fighters healthy during the first wave.
- Robust PPE. Finding more durable solutions for the waves that come next.
- Patient solutions including things like ventilators. It’s not yet clear where the bottlenecks will be, but we are trying to predict based on the experience of other countries.
- Supply chain optimization. Once manufacturers begin to ramp up and re-tool to create medical supplies, we will look for ways to increase their throughput by removing bottlenecks and supply issues.
The specific initiatives we are currently working on (as of March 23rd, 2020):
We are assisting a Markforged customer to develop nasal swabs to be used for drive-thru testing in California. It’s imperative that we test and identify COVID-infected patients, as it’s the number one way to slow down the spread of the virus. By providing nasal swabs in a timely manner, we will be able to increase the number of tests, isolate those who are infected, and keep fighting.
Markforged has created a design for a face guard to be used in hospitals and healthcare facilities to protect against COVID-19. The team will distribute the face guard to local healthcare institutions, and has reached out to Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s, and Lahey Health/Beth Israel Deaconess to understand their needs. We aim to have 200-250 face guards available by Tuesday March 24th for the Massachusetts groups, and are preparing to provide the design to our customers and partners so they can use it in their local communities.
Seeking Input from Experts
Markforged is also actively speaking with manufacturers and COVID-19 testing facilities to see how we can streamline or scale their production capacity. We believe that supporting the manufacturers will provide the most impact during this time. While 3D printing isn’t able to rapidly scale to the volume of mass production, it can speed up a factory to produce more products, transform a production line from making perfumes to making hand sanitizer, or provide a missing part to get a stalled factory up and running.
Activating our Network
With hundreds of industrial printers in our print farm in Massachusetts, and more than 10,000 Markforged printers distributed at our customers globally, Markforged has the largest network of industrial 3D printers — and we need to lend support during this time of need. We are having active discussions with our community and with a number of hospitals and healthcare providers — both in Boston and in other cities.
How you can help
We’ve received so many messages, emails, and phone calls from people looking for ways to help. Here are three main ways you can lend a helping hand.
Help us source projects with the biggest impact
Our team is hard at work on a few different designs to help the medical community. If you have a great idea, please send us an email at [email protected].
Offer your 3D printing services
We’re calling on our community — both the Markforged community and the additive manufacturing community — to offer their printing services once we’ve identified the right designs.
Share with your network
We are in the process of building out a more detailed knowledge base — including proven design files and build instructions for immediate high-impact parts, specific details on the internal initiative we’re taking to help local medical providers, and a streamlined workflow for submitting and vetting ideas. We would love for you to share this information with your network so we can spread the word about how to help.
We are amazed at how people are banding together to help those in need. To the fearless health workers on the front lines, our hearts are with you. To those who have been affected by the virus, know that we are doing our best to help fight against the pandemic. To our Markforged task force, we are so proud of all the work you’ve put in over the past week, and we know it will all be worth it. And to our partners, customers, and community, we look forward to working with you to help provide much-needed medical supplies.