Northern Colorado 3D printing community creating equipment for hospitals in fight against COVID-19
Local printers have distributed over 1,000 face shields and masks
As hospitals across the country face shortages of protective equipment, Northern Colorado’s 3D printing community is stepping up to fill the gap in the fight against COVID-19.
Medical physicist Dr. Alex Markovic works at Banner Health’s radiation and oncology clinics in Northern Colorado, where he assists doctors in treating cancer patients and helps bring new technology to the clinic. Markovic has a 3D printer that he creates things with as a hobby, and two years ago he helped facilitate the 3D printing of boluses, a material placed over a patient’s skin during radiation therapy, at Banner’s clinics.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to take root in the U.S., Markovic saw that other people were 3D printing face shields for doctors to wear.
“I thought, hey, we can do that,” Markovic said.
Face shields are transparent visors that medical workers wear on their faces over their masks. The shields help protect them from germs and help preserve the lifespan of masks so that they can be worn for longer.
Markovic found a design for face shields on the internet that he slightly modified and started printing using the 3D printers at McKee Medical Center in Loveland and North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley.
James Fambrough, a member of the local 3D printing community (colloquially known as the maker community), reached out to Markovic to assist his efforts. Fambrough lives in Loveland, and runs Maker 3D Printing, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to all things 3D printing. He became concerned about the coronavirus when it was breaking out in China, and realized that it was only a matter of time before it reached the U.S.
“When I heard the stories I knew it was going to be bad and I knew our system was going to be overwhelmed,” he said.
Normally he uses his printer to create toys for his kids and other gadgets, but he decided to start printing protective equipment to help health care workers. He has some connections in the medical field from his time as an emergency medical technician, and after asking around he realized face shields would be the most helpful thing to print.
He reached out to Wuxn, a 3D printing company in Fort Collins that he bought his machine from. Wuxn volunteered to print shields with its 12 printers, and together the group created a first batch of 300 face shields that were distributed to rural hospitals in Colorado and Wyoming with Markovic’s help.
Fambrough started making connections with other people in the maker community, and received donations of material and more 3D printers. He converted his basement, normally where he and his family watch TV, into a 3D printing facility, and now has five printers printing face shields day and night.
The group is also working on 3D printing masks, with uses a more complex design, and ventilator valves.
So far, the group has printed over 1,000 face shields, about 500 of which have been distributed locally, and 500 respirator masks.
The main challenge limiting the group’s output is material shortages. Fambrough said he has had issues sourcing elastic to make masks, and 3D printing filament is starting to run low in some areas. Last week he ordered an industrial-sized shipment of elastic in the hopes that it would be delivered faster.
Through connections on the internet, the group has now started shipping its face shields to COVID-19 hot spots in New York and New Jersey in addition to local hospitals. Fambrough published his designs so that other 3D printing groups could use them, and groups in Fort Collins, Denver and Ohio are now using them to create protective equipment.
“The maker community is working really hard,” he said.
Fambrough hopes that he can inspire other people with 3D printers to get involved in the effort to create medical equipment. Many people have the technical skills necessary but don’t know how to reach out to the medical community, he said.
“A lot of people have the machines, they have the skills to do it but they’re not the social people,” he said. “They’re more of the closet nerds that don’t know how to speak to a hospital.”
He’s trying to help out with that by creating a YouTube video with advice on how 3D printing groups can reach out to their local health care facilities.
Both Fambrough and Wuxn are accepting financial donations to help pay for the cost of 3D printing materials. The group’s efforts wouldn’t be nearly as successful without the support the community has provided, Fambrough said.
“They’re really helping us to help the heroes,” he said.