DLR, German's space agency and NASA equivalent, is doing what it can to support the global shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by frontline healthcare workers in their efforts to treat those affected by COVID-19. DLR announced that it has successfully tested converting its on-site 3D printers, typically used for producing aerospace-grade parts, to creating medical equipment including protective face masks and ventilators.
There's a need for various kinds of components and equipment worldwide, and healthcare workers are coming up with solutions that are far less than ideal and not necessarily approved for use by governing healthcare agencies, simply because they have no other options. DLR investigated what it could do working with its Sytemhaus Technik engineering and manufacturing group, which leveraged free and open resources including templates for PPE produced by groups working to address the global shortage.
The agency's equipment is now being certified by healthcare agencies for medical use, and meanwhile, DLR and Systemhaus Technik are working to share their findings and know-how with other institutions, science and research facilities to help them use their own resources to spin up similar production capacities.
So far, DLR can produce "up to 10 protective masks or 15 valves for ventilators per day," but it says it hopes to work on building out a network of facilities that can ramp up production to higher rates of output.
The need for this equipment globally is such that any added capacity can help make a difference, but more important might be the knowledge that is developed and shared about doing the same thing on similar 3D printing equipment. Putting aerospace engineers to work on developing solutions that can be repeated in other manufacturing environments, and that meet medical-grade specification requirements, could ultimately help save a lot of lives as health agencies globally work to deal with the influx of patients requiring advanced care as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.