COVID-19 has impacted daily lives across the globe over the past couple of months. While things are challenging, I am confident that we will return to our normal lives, but perhaps with some positive changes. It has certainly become a time for many of us to put our creativity and resources to use. One of these tests of creativity came to MSB Architects recently, when we were asked if we could assist the local hospital, Meritus Medical Center, by printing some personal protection equipment (PPE) with our 3D printer. After a bit of quick research, I reached out to Preston Tobery of Adaptive Tech & Consulting for help.
Preston and I printed several of the open-source designs that are available online and reviewed them with Meritus. Their infection control division wanted several modifications to provide the proper amount of protection for their employees. We went back to the drawing board, so to speak, and just like that, we were now manufacturers of PPE equipment and starting the prototyping process. Over the next 4 days, we designed, printed, tested, redesigned, reprinted, and reviewed multiple options for Meritus. The approval came with version 4, along with a request to deliver 10,000 face shields. Now, 3D printers have certainly been thrust into the spotlight during this crisis, and they are helping communities across the world, but they are slow and not meant for mass production. Sure, we could print a couple 100 with no problem, but 10,000?
It was clear the need was greater than 3D printers can produce in a short time. Our solution was to reach out to an injection mold company. This was new territory for both Preston and me. Although we had the 3D digital file of the face shield, it was not designed with the injection mold manufacturing process in mind. It was time to go back to the drawing board. We had to keep the intent, but make it mold friendly. Holes that were intended to hold the face shield in place were no longer a viable option. The vertical walls of the design need to be tilted, ever so slightly (this is called draft). We went through 4 additional prototypes, making subtle changes that had significant consequences on the production side.
After 8 days of intensive design work and multiple spreadsheets, we were able to provide a cost analysis to produce 10,000 face shields. We discovered that sometimes a small, simple piece can cost a lot of money to mass produce, while a larger piece may be less expensive which doesn’t seem to make sense. While this project might seem like a stretch for an architect, design, and cost estimating are things we do all the time. The biggest difference for me was how many times we could redesign after the item was made. In architecture, our custom designs are prototypes, but we don’t have the chance to redesign after something is built. But architecture is more like life. You make choices and you live with them, you learn from them, and maybe you make better choices moving forward.