March 29, 2020 3 min read

We witnessed something remarkable over the last couple of months as the global maker community went to work to fight Covid19.  

While the federal governments fought amongst themselves and passed a hot potato of blame back and forth, while the states bickered and the hospitals dithered and denied that there was a problem, even punishing their own health workers who spoke up about impending shortages, the DIY, Maker and 3D Printing communities dove into  hive mind  and ignited a remarkable wave of collective action to fill the void. 

They started with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) focusing on laser cutting face shields, seeming to delegate cloth sewn surgical masks to a more dispersed army of people with sewing machines and textile manufacturing.  The face shield crowd shared open source designs, debated over the length of the front piece and the minimum thickness of the shield and gave each other tips about the ideal material for making the shield and the specifications for attaching the shield to a 3D printed visor.  From Portugal to Portsmouth NH, militias of 3D printing afficionados, some with whole 'farms' of machines, and others with a garage of 1 to 3 machines at a time, began printing face shields in time to the drumbeat of reports that came in from Italy and then Spain (and now the United States) about the unfathomable shortage of basic equipment (#GetmePPE). 

6-8 weeks into the heart of the pandemic, a Czech company, founded by Josef Prusa, Prusa3D (Prusa Research a.s.) and the maker of the Original Prusa i3 3D printer emerged as a clear forerunner in the (very) collegial 'competition.'  By March 27th their open source design had been downloaded 100,000 times and a Michigan Hospital Procurement had approved the PRUSA Protective Face Shield-RT3.  The company has donated 12,000 shields and can print 3000 a day.  

In the United States, NIH has approved a 3D printed design as well.  Put forth quickly and without fanfare by the Design that Matters team from Massachusetts, the design is credited to PRUSA's RT2 version. 

The Facebook Group, Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies, is a hive of activity which leverages the hive mind of 53,000 makers and members (as of March 28, 2020).  When the group began it was a flurry of innovative ideas and rapid prototyping. As they have become more and more organized and streamlined, the best ideas rise to the top and the new members are encouraged to 1) first research what is already working and 2) make sure they are making based upon the request of a specific hospital.  Members of the group include photos of them wearing their designs, but most importantly, they share the designs and alert the group when a hospital approves their design.  For example, "Another DIY Face shield design, assembled in under 60 seconds for ~$1 It's being accepted by a wide variety ofLos Angeles area hospitals including Cedars Sinai, UCLA, Torrance Memorial, MLK and more."  The 'stamp of approval' from the hospitals validates the efforts of the makers and fabricators churning out face shields in 3D printer farms across the world, adding a wind beneath their sails as the race against the virus.

This blog will be followed by our observations about rapid immunoassay tests, PCR testing as well as the parallel open source innovating for ventilators.

The energy, industriousness and collegial collective action propelled by a globally distributed group of highly practical makers stands in stark contrast to the petty shortsightedness of heads of state around the world.  If only we could harness more makers, more quickly.

Meg Wirth

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