In France, one of the countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, the community of 3D printer users has embarked on the production of badly needed visors, protective masks and medical equipment components. Among the companies involved in the provision of this assistance is Athletics 3D, a manufacturer of equipment for professional athletes based in Grenoble, France, using Zortrax printers on a daily basis.
Key advantages of 3D printing technology include the ability to conduct distributed and flexible manufacturing operations. Internet access is all that is required to enable 3D printers’ users to share designs and organize themselves into a ‘production line’ that does not even have to be located in the same place. In order to facilitate communication between people with available 3D printers and hospitals suffering from shortages of specialized equipment, Athletics 3D staff have created an interactive map enabling device owners, hospitals and organizations to pin their locations and indicate their availability or needs, as appropriate in the circumstances. This enables medical centers to quickly find willing 3D printing services providers in their vicinity who are ready to produce the necessary equipment.
Medical or protective equipment may be 3D printed even by users who have never before been involved in such production. An extensive community of users and instructional videos are available to assist them. The intuitive operation of the devices enables users to print designs of all sorts, even those that have never before been seen by the owner of the printer.
“Designs adapted to production on almost any type of 3D printer are available in the form of .stl files and may be used across the world. The 3D printer operator is not required to make any modifications. Special digital libraries of such designs exist, including the Zortrax Library, containing various designs of equipment available to anyone for download and printing. This solution eliminates the need to transport the equipment over long distances. The design is transmitted digitally and the printing is performed at or near the final destination. The visor design developed by Zortrax and published in the Zortrax library is now available to everyone. Currently, this type of visor is printed and used also in France,” says Clement Jacquelin, founder and CEO of Athletics 3D.
Traditional production techniques and 3D printing can complement each other. Athletics 3D has established cooperation with other international and French companies, including Cap Gemini, MGEN and ST Microelectronique, to enhance their production capacity. Using only its existing printers, the company was able to manufacture some 45 visors per day. With support provided by owners of laser plotters enabling the cutting of plexiglass visors, it has been possible to modify and simplify the design to increase the daily production to 100 pieces. The complementary nature of technologies also manifests itself in the manufacture of protective masks. Flexible parts that adhere to the face are cut out on plotters while plastic valves that adjust the flow of air through the mask are created on Zortrax printers operated by Athletics 3D.
“More and more regular users of our printers are involved in the production of protective equipment for people who are in serious need these days. What we are seeing is that a large community of users unite and work together to create and share new solutions. On various online groups and platforms, people from all over the world exchange designs and patents to enable the printing, in home conditions, of key equipment that is currently unavailable on the market through regular distribution channels,” says Mariusz Babula, Vice-President of Zortrax.