Why I am not 3D Printing Masks

The Experiment was a Success, the Hypothesis was Wrong  

This started with a bat in China, but I don’t know that I need to go that far back.  

Last week interest in printing 3D N95 and procedural masks to help health care workers took offIt turns out after The Strategic National Stockpile distributed 85 million N95 face mask in response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 they were never fully restocked.1   

Our hypothesis:   

As a provider of 3D printer solutions, we could do our part by ramping up an entire mask assembly line.  

The Experiment:  

Immediately, one of our engineers went to work, hell bent on making the best, optimized prototype print. 

Beyond the prints, a mask needed a seal, elastic bands and filter.  A surgeon assisted in reviewing the form and fit of the device.  The surgeon’s wife sourced elastic bands, while we solved the sealing, assembly and shipping challenges 

A business plan was developed for in-house capacity of approx.: 750-1000 masks / week. 10x or more than this if we turned on the network of our manufacturing partners The plan involved hiring 3 local, currently unemployed people. 

We needed to determine delivery and get input from the medical community on the masks themselves. 

It is now Friday morning, day 3, and we have  

a) 2 completed prototypes  

b) Actions in place to spool up 20 printers  

c) A business plan that could be producing shipping results by Monday.  

d) A meeting with a CEO, Infection Prevention Leader and Director of Supply Chain Operations of a leading regional health care institution to review and address the idea of these masks. 

The Results 

We should not be printing these masks.  These types of 3D printed masks are not able to be used as N-95 masks due to design and materialsFor both N-95 masks as well as procedural masks more research online indicates there are major health and efficacy concerns regarding 3D-printed masks.2  Could they be improved to address these challenges?  Possibly.  They will need to address several hurdles to do so.3 But nothing I am currently seeing coming out of the standard 3D desktop printers should be used for this purpose.  

In addition, news reports came in about SEIU discovering 39 million masks as well as found another supplier who says his company can produce 20 million more masks a week. The union also has found a supplier who can deliver millions of face shields.4 

We have put this plan on hold.  Even if we get to the Critical Strata for health care workers, it seems that a face shield would be a better solution due to the safety issues associated with the 3D printed masks.5 

Where do we go from here?   
  1. If you are interested in 3D printing parts for health care workers consider printing face shields.  They are in demand and provide acceptable parts.  Markforged has a great approach to a complete face shield product.6  

  1. If you do decide to print masks, review the complications2 and recommendations regarding these efforts3,9.

  1. Keep track of what medical items can be sourced from 3D prints that your machine can output.  I found 3D Systems is doing a good job listing categories of parts and where they sit regarding accepted use.7  MIT is close to releasing plans for an inexpensive emergency ventilator.8  There are a lot of resources out there!

  1. If you need parts, Quest has demonstrated we can mobilize from a concept to production in less than 4 days. Contact our additive manufacturing division for more information.   

Two additional items that I learned.   

The first is the immediate impact of the hidden benefit of having engineers work from home.  Equipped with SOLIDWORKS and our SINDOH printer, overnight results included several iterations of ideas and physical prototypes.  I’ll have a separate article on these benefit 

The second was the ability of our team to address the needs of a customer regarding parts.   We demonstrated an ability to problem solve and produce parts in a heartbeat.  We want our customers to realize that we can do this for them.  If you have a need for limited run parts, we can help.   

  • We can assist in design, optimization and consolidation of parts for 3D printing 

  • We have SLA, FFM and metal printers up and running.  

  • We have engineering talent and tools for design/optimization/visualization and more. 

  • We are currently stocking SINDOH printers in Post Falls, ID. 

  • We are continuing to build our materials and spare parts stock

  • Interested in your own print farm? We can have you up in running in as little as a week.  

We will continue to be discussing how the manufacturing community can leverage 3D printers.   In the meantime, please comment below or contact me to discuss what we can do for you.  

Stay safe and socially distant while emotionally close.  We are all in this together.  

  1. National Stockpile Hasn't Significantly Refilled Face Masks Since 2009 

  1. 3D Printed N95 Masks Not Viable 

  1. Making An N95 Mask For COVID-19 Coronavirus? What You Need To Know 

  1. CDC Bulletin on Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks