Why Shapeways Started Making Face Shields

If you’re new to Shapeways or have not read our previous blog posts about Shapeways + COVID-19, here’s a brief summary.

In late March, as COVID-19 started to spread in the US, the Shapeways team began receiving a flurry of calls from hospitals across the U.S. asking for personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors, nurses and other staff treating patients infected with the coronavirus. Almost immediately, it became apparent that the biggest unmet PPE need for hospital staff that 3D printing could address was face shields, which protect against flying respiratory droplets from sneezes and coughs that can transmit coronavirus. 

Filling In the Need to Support Medical Teams

We quickly pivoted and got an exemption to keep our Long Island City factory running for COVID-19 production. Our operations in New York City now focus entirely on printing PPE, specifically reusable, industrial-grade face shields, based on the Prusa RC1 design developed by Prusa Research.

Kosina, OB/GYN Resident at Coney Island Hospital, wearing a 3D printed face shield provided by Shapeways.

Since Shapeways received that first phone call in late March from a hospital administrator, I am proud to say that we have manufactured and delivered  thousands of shields to a dozen medical organizations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, with a growing list that will receive shields in the coming days. Currently, we are able to produce over 1,000 shields a day.

“Thank you so much, this is much appreciated.  I can’t thank you enough for helping us frontliners battle this invisible war.” – Metropolitan Hospital (Emergency Department)

3D Printing As A Fast, Stopgap Solution But An Imperfect One

We know that we are far from the only 3D printers pitching in to design, manufacture and distribute PPE to medical workers. It’s been amazing to see creators stepping in to help, such as the team at Prusa Research who designed the original Prusa Face Shield, and whose CEO had personally given our team the license to produce these. We’re also deeply inspired by all the individual makers, small businesses and large companies that have put everything aside to help frontline workers.

Let’s be clear, a $29 face shield is not an ideal price point nor is it a permanent replacement of one-time use PPE the medical staff used to purchase for under $3. However, as is evident by watching and reading the news, we cannot wait for the ideal solution. While the regular supply chains that manufacture cost-effective face shields are running behind due to extremely high demand (as of April 9, the US national stockpile is down to 10%, according to Vice), 3D printed face shields are filling in the gap with production that can be done under 24 hours.

The manufacturing and delivery of 3D printed face shields to healthcare workers is not a simple or low-cost process. It involves many steps, including design testing, iterating, printing, post processing, shield cutting and drilling, assembly, cleaning, packaging and shipping. 

“One of the sturdiest we’ve used,” said Selvin about the Shapeways face shields he and his team received from Shapeways. Selvin is a registered nurse at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

When we started producing the Prusa RC1 face shield, this cost us $40 to produce each unit. Based on feedback we have received from hospital workers, we are now working on the 6th iteration of our face shield. We have five engineers constantly working on the design of the model to optimize for cost and to improve the efficiency and comfort of these face shields. 

We’ve made substantial progress in printing the highest quality shields possible and in getting costs down so that we can print as many shields as possible. We were able to drive the cost down to $29 per unit and will continue to improve this as much as possible. We also welcome anyone to share with us low-cost solutions that we could produce using 3D printing technology.

Currently, our Long Island City factory where we produce this PPE, is operating and staffed 6 days a week for 10 hours a day. On any given day, we have 15 employees on site working 10-hour shifts to make PPE. We’re also actively looking into printing ventilator components, nasal swabs, and other applications that would help tackle COVID-19.

Shapeways Gives Back

Chen, OB/GYN Resident at Coney Island Hospital, wearing a 3D printed face shield provided by Shapeways.

Shapeways efforts to support the fight against COVID-19 are being done at cost. We can not provide these free of charge so we are looking for alternative ways to fund these efforts. Last week we launched a crowdfunding campaign to further expand our face shield production efforts and Shapeways will fund 1 for every 4 face shields purchased through the crowdfunding campaign. This campaign, driven by our amazing community, helped us to produce over 3,000 face shields and counting.

The COVID-19 pandemic may last through the summer, and reports have emerged that it may become a seasonal virus. There will be an ongoing need for PPE. We plan on continuing to iterate, print and distribute PPE, including face shields, as long as hospitals need it. We will always do our best to minimize costs and maximize quality, while also ensuring that we can keep our doors open, machines running and staff working.

Finally, thank you to the entire Shapeways community. We have received an overwhelming amount of contributions to our crowdfunding campaign. It shows us that we are part of a movement to make the world better through 3D printing. And we want to thank our employees at the factory, whose work is filling in a critical need at this time. While many people are in lockdown, they are considered to be part of the essential teams out there working to fight against the virus. Thank you for helping to keep the frontline workers safe.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it.