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3D Printing Company Shifts Gears, Manufactures PPE For Healthcare Workers

Limbitless co-founder Dominique Courbin display's a completed face shield part that was printed on a 3D printer at Limbitless. Photo: UCF
Thomas Bell
Limbitless co-founder Dominique Courbin display's a completed face shield part that was printed on a 3D printer at Limbitless. Photo: UCF

Healthcare workers are facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPEs. As manufacturers race to meet the need -- 3D printing companies are filling the gap in the short term.

One of those companies is Limbitless Solutions. The non-profit manufactures prosthetic arms for kids at its UCF-based shop. Now, it’s switching gears to help make face shields for healthcare workers.

90.7’s Brendan Byrne spoke with co-founder Albert Manero about the effort:

ALBERT MANERO: Limbitless has been working to pivot our manufacturing to support a national coalition put together by the 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys and working together distributed all across the country. We're producing the 3D printed parts to support face shield manufacturing for people on the front lines fighting this virus.

BRENDAN BYRNE: What's the advantage of being able to manufacture this using 3D printer technology?

MANERO: One of the beautiful parts of 3D printing is that you can completely pivot what you're manufacturing literally overnight. And for this situation where we are identifying a lot of hospitals appear to have a lot of need for face shields or disposable face shields and a lot of other PPE.

In this case, we're able to step in as that go-to, quick response manufacturer while the traditional manufacturers using tools like injection molding or casting machining take a little bit longer to turn on. But when they do turn on, they're going to be able to produce hundreds of thousands or millions of parts to basically solve the problem. In the interim, while we're here today, it's really exciting to be a part of a group of people using 3D printing to step in the short term.

BYRNE: So you're filling a gap for PPEs for folks on the front line. Tell me a little bit about these face shields. How are you manufacturing them on on your equipment right now what's the process?

MANERO: The coalition put together an approved design and then validated the machines of everyone who's in that coalition. We've been able to print their files -- they're actually the headband component that would later be attached to like a plexiglass shield. Then there's a rubber band that helps tension behind your face and behind your head to be able to adapt to different size individuals.

What's good about that is that this is considered a disposable face shield. It's not considered true personal protection equipment by the standards that are out there, but it's there to be a support in the short term, because the need is so great right now.

BYRNE: Tell me a little bit about the advantages of designing on the fly. How is this helping the process?

MANERO: I think being able to rapidly iterate your parts using 3D design -- it has a lot of advantages when we're trying to come together and converge on that best solution. And 'best' in this term can be the fastest produce, the most flexible to be able to produce or able to be distributed, manufactured, brought together by one central place and then sent to the respective hospitals.

One of the other unique things that we've been able to do because of 3D printing is that all of the face shield components that we're working on have a special message to first responders. We have four different versions and they actually have text extruded into the the shield that says 'thank you,' 'hope,' 'compassion' and 'love.'  We hope that that's just a little pick me up for the people who are doing the real work trying to save lives and protect their communities.

Brendan Byrne is WMFE's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the WMFE newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing WMFE's internship program.

Byrne also hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.
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