During this COVID-19 lockdown, you may have read articles about volunteers making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on their 3D printers. We are one of those households. Whilst this is nothing to do with our usual business, we have had a lot of questions about what we’re doing so we thought we’d share what we’ve done and how we did it.
Firstly it’s important to note that, in terms of providing this to medical and care home staff (which is what we’re currently doing), making PPE on a 3D Printer provides something which is, hopefully, only a stop gap. Whilst there doesn’t seem to be any official guidance for healthcare workers about protection, we’d hope that eventually ‘official’ protective equipment will be provided where it is needed. And that it will be robust, and easier to sterilise. That said, everyone we’ve given these to, without exception, has been delighted on the basis that ‘it’s better than nothing’.
How did we get involved in printing PPE on a 3D Printer?
We knew precisely nothing about 3D printers one short week ago. Then a friend of mine posted about her daughter, Sophie. During lockdown, this remarkable 13 year old has been making great use of her time. She started using her own 3D printer print masks for key workers, then set up a GoFundMe Page to raise money for more printers. As at today. she has 5 printers and has made a staggering 1,000+ masks.
Andy wrote to Simon Mayo at Scala Radio and he read out the email, making Sophie ‘Captain Scala’ for the day (recording below). And we suddenly thought: why don’t we print these too? So we ordered the printer recommended by Sophie, she generously shared her design with us and we are now producing them too.
I want to do this. What do I need for Making PPE on a 3D printer?
I’m writing this as though you are a complete novice with no previous knowledge of 3D printing and not a 3D printer in the house. Just as we were one week ago, in fact.
You need 4 things to make these masks. A 3D printer, a roll of filament, a pack of office binding covers (those clear plastic sheets you find on the front and back of bound presentations around offices) and a standard office hole punch.
The first thing: the 3D printer. The one Sophie recommends, and the one we bought, is a CR-20 Pro.
The video which helped us set up this printer is here.
The second thing: the right filament. The printer came with a small roll of filament, which is the plastic thread that feeds into the machine from a reel, a bit like a sewing machine (it probably isn’t but that’s my brain for you).
However that roll won’t last long, and the filament we are buying now for this design is 1.75mm gauge 3D Printer PLA Filament. One kilo of filament is making about 50 visors for the masks. Make sure you are buying PLA Filament, for there are other kinds which don’t work with the designs we’re sharing with you. We know this from experience (ha!).
The third thing: a pack of Office Binding Covers. We started out using 150 Micron A4 pvc sheets but then Sophie advised us that the slightly thicker ones are more stable. So if you can only get 150 or 200 micron sheets or you happen to have some, use them rather than have a delay whilst trying to source anything else. Now we’re using 240 Micron A4 pvc sheets which work really well.
And the fourth thing you need: a standard office hole punch. The hole punch you’ll see in our video later is not a special one, in fact it’s probably a valuable antique. I liberated it from an office which was closing down many years ago. Which is another story altogether.
Any old standard-sized hole punch is fine.
I have my 3D Printer and Supplies. What do I do now?
After you’ve set up your printer, you will need to load the design into your printer. You can find a number of designs for these, all over the internet. The one we’re using is the design Sophie has developed, having started with one she found online herself and then improved it as she went along. She has kindly said we can share it widely as it has been thoroughly tried and tested.
Incidentally, we have dabbled. We have tried to increase the speed, and also tried to print two at a time. Sophie is doing this very successfully and, if you are an experienced 3D printer, then you may wish to try that. But since we hadn’t even seen a 3D printer until last week, we are not experienced enough to do this. Every time something goes wrong we find it impossible to troubleshoot, and we lose valuable time in the process.
So we’ve given up trying to go faster. This design enables us to print approximately 8 visors per day (46 minutes each, to be precise) and we have the printer going in the shop whilst we pack orders.
What Files are you using?
There are two types of file for 3D printing, a PLA file, which is the file you use to design the item you want to print and the GCODE file, which is the file you create from the design file and load onto the printer. The printer uses the GCODE file to print the design.
We would dearly love to post these on here for you to download now, but we haven’t quite worked out how to do that yet. So in the interests of speed, please contact us and we will send you the files immediately.
When/if we work out how to make them downloadable on here, we will do that. If you know how to do that, please let us know 🙂
How do I put the mask together?
It’s a lot easier to show you than it is to explain it!
Our how-to video on how and where to punch the holes in the acetate is here:
And our how-to video on attaching the acetate sheet to the 3D printed visor is here:
What about making them Sterile?
Manufacturers will make medical masks to strict standards in a sterile environment. Obviously we can’t do that. But we’re working with gloves, keeping everything as clean as we can and offering contactless collections outside our shop, and contactless deliveries.
What about Safety?
We have been advised to enclose a disclaimer note with our masks. We hated doing it, but we understand why and think our recipients understand too. This is the wording we’re using, again supplied by our friend (thank you Sophie):
“This is not standard or “recommended” equipment. It is homemade, not safety tested.
It is not sterile.
We can take no responsibility for anything that might happen by using it.
You will need to risk assess the visors, how you will use them, how you will clean them before/after use, and how they will work with your PPE and infection control procedures.
If you know of anyone who might like some, please let us know or ask them to contact us directly at xxxxxxx
Thank you for everything you are doing to look after us and keep us safe.”
What should I charge for these?
We’re one of the lucky businesses in the current lockdown. It seems that beer, wine and cider kits are just the thing you want when you’re stuck at home 🙂 So at the moment we are still trading. And we’re more than happy to give them away for free. It’s the least we can do really.
What if you’re not in the financial position to do this and/or don’t have a 3D printer already? As mentioned in the Scala audio clip above, Sophie set up a Go Fund Me page to pay for everything which, again, allows her to supply the masks to anyone who wants them for free.
Hopefully it goes without saying, but Sophie has entrusted us with these files. We are allowed to share them with you, but only on the basis that nobody profiteers from them.
If you decide to do this too: good luck! I promise it isn’t as daunting as perhaps it sounds. Doing, as always, is easier than explaining. And today we supplied masks to a group of nurses at a small local hospital, and a care home around the corner from us. So it really is worth the effort.
And when this is all over, our youngest has already chosen a 3D dinosaur model to print and I have my sights on a candle mold! Watch this space!
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