Volunteers 3D print medical supplies amid COVID-19 shortages

Coronavirus

21-year-old WSU student and entrepreneur leading the effort

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — 3D printing and internet crowd-sourcing are being harnessed for supplying hospitals in the Pacific Northwest with personal protective equipment amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a powerful display of human engineering and generosity that particularly impacts health care workers on the front lines risking their well-being and lives to care for COVID-19 patients in the face of shortages of protective gear.

“We shouldn’t be risking our medical staffs’ lives right now. They’re being heroes right now by even going to work. And I think we should do everything we can to support them, especially if we have the resources,” Washington State University student and entrepreneur Connor Weller told KOIN 6 News. “I happen to have the resources and a lot of people out there do too, that can help us.”

WSU student and entrepreneur Connor Weller spearheaded an effort to coordinate volunteers with 3D printers to manufacture face shields for hospitals. April 2, 2020 (KOIN/Danny Peterson).

Weller spearheaded an effort to coordinate volunteers with 3D printers to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), like face shields, to be distributed to hospitals in need of them.

Volunteers can inquire via a Facebook group called PNW – Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies and a website, helppnwcvd19.com.

Far from merely stockpiling the gear, health clinics are actually able to request the PPE type and quantity needed which then gets dispersed to the volunteers to be printed.

“We’ve got our system set up where if you got a 3D printer, you can join the group. We’ve got a spreadsheet print queue kind of thing. You can go on there, you can say I want to print, you find an unclaimed ‘assignment,'” Weller said.

Many of the available blueprints have been given approval by various health institutions, including two designs certified by the National Institute of Health.

Once the equipment is printed, volunteers can drop them off at available drop boxes, which include two Brainwave PC store locations in Beaverton and Control H Maker Space in Portland. The latter of which also contributes to the manufacturing of the gear by laser cutting the see-through portion of the face shields, Weller said.

Another person credited with spearheading the 3D print effort is Shashi Jain, the head of Portland 3D Printing Lab, Weller said.

The people making the 3D prints are instructed to not make direct contact with the gear, but place it in a gallon Ziploc bag. The hospitals themselves sanitize the gear with specialized equipment, Weller said.

Crowd sourcing via the internet and 3D printing overlap for a technology assisted effort to equip hospitals with personal protective equipment. April 2, 2020 (OSCMS).

There’s about five to 10 core volunteers who help with the marketing, coordination with hospitals and other needs. The Facebook groups’ members now exceed over 400.

Some of the hospitals that have been benefiting from the equipment include Providence, Willamette Falls Medical Center, Legacy Emanuel, VA Portland, Summit Medical Group in Bend, Ore., Kaiser Permanente in Tacoma, Wash., and others. 

Even if you don’t have a 3D printer, but still want to volunteer, Weller encourages anyone to complete their volunteer intake form found on their website as there still may be opportunities to help. For instance, Weller recently enlisted the help of a graphic designer and a software engineer, even though they didn’t have 3D printers.

In addition, he’s set up a Go Fund Me page, if people are able to donate, which will also help the cause.

“All the funds for that are going to buying materials and any extra logistics that we need, shipping and that kind of stuff, to get as much of the stuff made as possible,” Weller said.

At 21, Weller is the founder of two small business enterprises. The first was a company that made 3D-printed cookie cutter, the profits of which he used to buy five 3D printers that are all currently printing PPE non-stop, he said. The second startup he created is called Baseline Design and focuses on open source designing of products that can be assembled at home.

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