3D firms step up to fill supply chain shortages
2020-03-22    [Source:sustainableplastics]
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    PUdaily, Shanghai--As the coronavirus outbreak spreads globally, 3D printing firms have been stepping in to help fill the need for everything from respirator parts to touch-free door handles.

    The moves come as governments call on companies to shut down most non-essential manufacturing, automakers shutter assembly lines and more cancellations pile up.

    Silicon Valley 3D printing specialist Carbon Inc. said it's seeing the need for even more production and is asking companies, governments and others to reach out with requests for the company to fulfill urgent production needs for polymer parts.

    Joseph DeSimone, co-founder and chairman of Carbon, said that during this pandemic now, and in preparation for future interruptions, it is essential that global supply chains are diversified and adaptable. That opens the need for more adaptable production.

 

    "The escalating global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exposes vulnerabilities related to supply chains and what can happen when supply chains are not adaptable," DeSimone told Plastics News in an email. "As the world faces increasing medical supply shortages, additive manufacturing technologies can help meet critical production needs by avoiding problems that traditional supply chains continue to experience due to regional shut-downs and global transportation disruptions."

    Carbon's large network of contracted manufacturing partners — 52 of them in 10 countries — can print parts on demand, he said. Carbon has resins with properties to make complex fluid and gas fixtures, electronic components and molds for other products including silicone diaphragms, pumping systems and elastomeric components.

 

    "Carbon printers are all connected to the cloud, so when such a disruption occurs, even if one facility goes down, digital designs for parts can easily be shifted to and manufactured at another facility as needed," DeSimone said.

    Meanwhile in Italy, which has surpassed China in its number of deaths due to the virus at 3,405 fatalities as of early on March 20, researchers and 3D printing startups in the country stepped in to meet demand for respirator valves at a hospital in Brescia after it ran out of the life-saving part.

    Because the original manufacturer couldn't supply the parts in time, Isinnova — the Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems, an Italian research institute — and Lonati SpA worked together to provide the hospital with 100 3D printed valves in just 24 hours at no cost to the hospital, which had over 250 coronavirus patients in intensive care at the time, according to a BBC report.

HP said in a LinkedIn post March 18 that it is designing and preparing to produce essential medical products for first responders and hospitals, including ventilator valves, breathing filters and face mask clasps.

    "We will make available any HP proprietary design files for these parts so they can be produced anywhere in the world," Ramon Pastor, interim president of HP 3D printing said in the post. "And we are also helping end-customers bridge potential supply chain interruptions by expanding distributed print-on-demand capabilities."

 

 
A better handle

    Leuven, Belgium-based digital designer Materialise created a 3D printed, hands-free door opener to eliminate direct contact with door handles. The design was originally developed in a meeting intended to focus on preventing the spread of the virus in its own headquarters.

    Kristof Sehmke, global communications manager at Materialise told Plastics News that the idea for the handle became a physical product in just 24 hours.

    "That wouldn't be possible with any other manufacturing technology," Sehmke said.

    Materialise is allowing free downloads of the design for anyone with a 3D printer to produce. As of March 19, the handle design had been downloaded more than 7,000 times, Sehmke said.

    "That's the power of this technology," he said. "Within a matter of hours the design was available globally. There's more than a half-million 3D printers around the world. … In times when travel and transport are jeopardized the ability to manufacture locally becomes really important."

    The hands-free handle also already comes in multiple models, he said. Materialise's design engineers are still working on models to fit more door handles.

 

    In addition to offering free downloads of the design, Materialise is printing models the handles at cost to anyone who orders them online.

    "We don't have any intention to make a profit off this product," Sehmke said.

    Materlialise is also working with industry partners and local universities to look into production of protective facial masks in light of massive shortages.

    "We have a team for it, but it's not as obvious because it has specific challenges," he said. "It's not just about making the masks. In a medical environment they need to be certified, tested and 100 percent safe. … There's also the issue of scaling, can we print 50,000 or 100,000 of these in a short time frame?"

    "We're not the only ones who are doing this, of course, and we're really excited to see this industry coming together and offering solutions," Sehmke said. "It's a great opportunity make a positive contribution and to show the capabilities of this technology in these difficult times."

    Beyond 3D printing, companies began shifting to increase production of needed items.

 

    Automakers in Europe and the United States said they were looking at whether they could convert their production lines to produce medical parts, including respirators.

    French materials company Arkema SA said in a March 20 news release that it is repurposing a production line at its Rhône Alpes Research Center, near Lyon, to produce 20 tons of alcohol-based sanitizing solution per week. The solution will be distributed free of charge of hospitals in France, the company said.

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