Like everyone else, hackers and makers want to do something to help control the spread of COVID-19. The recent posts on Hackaday dealing with DIY and open source approaches to respirators, ventilators, and masks have been some of the most widely read and commented on in recent memory. But it’s important to remember that the majority of us aren’t medical professionals, and that even the most well-meaning efforts can end up making things worse if they aren’t done correctly.
Which is exactly what [Josef Průša] wanted to make clear about 3D printed medical equipment in his latest blog post. Like us, he’s thrilled to see all the energy the maker community is putting into brainstorming ways we can put our unique skills and capabilities to use during this global pandemic, but he also urged caution. Printing out an untested design in a material that was never intended for this sort of application could end up being more dangerous than doing nothing at all.
To say that he and his team are authorities in the realm of fused deposition modeling (FDM) would be something of an understatement. They know better than most what the technology is and is not capable of, and they’re of the opinion that using printed parts in respirators and other breathing devices isn’t viable until more research and testing is done
For example, how can we ensure the porous plastic parts are sterilized and not just serving as a breeding ground for bacteria? It’s hardly a new concern; the debate about printed objects in food contact applications has been going on for years.
The safest option is to only use printed parts for structural components that don’t need to be sterile. To that end, [Josef] used the post to announce a newly published design of a printable face shield for medical professionals. Starting with an existing open source design, the Prusa Research team used their experience to optimize the headband for faster and easier printing. They can produce four headbands at once on each of the printers in their farm, which will allow them to make as many as 800 shields per day without impacting their normal business operations. The bottleneck on production is actually how quickly they can cut out the clear visors with their in-house laser, not the time it takes to print the frames.
It’s easy to get excited when success stories featuring 3D printed medical devices are in the news, but that doesn’t mean you should be cranking out lifesaving devices with that roll of bargain PLA you’ve had sitting around the shop. As difficult as it may be for some of us to admit, the safest thing might be to let our spare CPU cycles do battle with COVID-19 instead.