At an industrial scale with 3D printing, HP pretty much stands alone. Their evident eventual goal is to transform manufacturing so that a plant works like one large 3D printer. We are years if not decades from that plausible eventuality, but they are getting ever closer to creating what we Star Trek fans genuinely want, a personal replicator.
The Covid-19 Pandemic is creating an opportunity for the entire technology industry to step up, and HP is stepping up. They have already delivered over 1000 3D printed parts to local hospitals across the world. They are spinning up their partners to both validate designs and provide completed solutions to help address the supply shortfall.
The lessons learned this time will go a long way towards assuring that at least large hospitals can print what they need when the next outbreak, be it local, national, or worldwide hits.
Let’s talk about HP, 3D Printing, and mitigating the supply shortages connected to Covid-19 this week.
3D Printing's Promise
One of the potential advantages of 3D printing is extreme flexibility or the ability to rapidly remission the equipment from one task to another. You can be creating building materials one moment and medical prosthetics the next by merely loading the digital representation of the new part into the printer. It is that agility that currently makes this technology useful for prototyping and for making unique low-run parts that can be used to repair obsolete equipment or create unique physical solutions.
In the case of a disaster, there is an increasing potential to have the option of not sending finished supplies but a 3D printer with raw materials so that what is needed can be printed based on changing demands. For instance, you could have a situation where you initially low on one thing, say surgical gowns, only to discover you were out of something more critical like masks. Rather than waiting for a new shipment, you could print what you needed to address the spot shortage.
You would just need to stock up on the raw materials and then shift your 3D manufacturing capacity as required. This capability is more critical in a disaster than it is in manufacturing because with manufacturing, you have a plan, in an emergency, you primarily don’t, and people are dealing with problems as they come up.
What Is Being Done Now
Unfortunately, 3D printing isn’t yet to the point where a printer can switch from masks to ventilators, but they are ramping to build many necessary components. These components include face masks, face shields, mask adjusters, nasal swabs, hands-free door openers, and respirator parts.
Now several interesting parts are in the pipeline with designs going through validation right now. For instance:
· Hands-Free Door Opener: Door handles are among the most germ-infested objects in houses, hospitals, factories, and elderly homes. This adapter allows for easy and more sanitary opening with an elbow.
· Mask Adjuster: Many hospital staff is required to wear masks for long periods. This clasp is designed to improve comfort and alleviate associated ear pain.
· Face Shields: Face shields are one of the highest-need personal protection items. Brackets to hold the shield and comfortably fit the wearer are a critical component.
· Field Ventilator: 3D printed parts for a mechanical bag valve mask (BVM) that is designed for use as short-term emergency ventilation of COVID-19 patients. This simplified design enables a robust and less-complex device, facilitating its rapid production and assembly.
· FFP3 Face Masks: Effective protective gear is needed for medical providers to treat the volume of expected COVID-19 patients. HP is validating several hospital-grade face masks and expects them to be available shortly.
For those with 3D printers looking to participate and needing designs, those that are already validated can be downloaded here. And if you are a Hospital that needs something printed, you can submit your request in a form here. (The same form allows you to submit an idea you just have to select that option in the first field, and before you comment, I struggled with that too).
Wars tend to accelerate results, and the battle against Covid-19 is resulting in many changes and advancements. One of the areas likely to see significant progress in both the development and use of 3D printers and HP is at the forefront of this development wave. Before this Pandemic is done, we will likely see significant advancements in how 3D printers are used and what they can do so that, perhaps, by the next Pandemic, they will be in every major hospital and critical medical shortages remain in the past where they belong.
Here is hoping we all live long enough to get there.
Rob Enderle has been a Quinstreet columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.