Military 3D-printing face shields, reusable N95 masks to address hospital shortages

The efforts will increase critical equipment as hospitals combat the coronavirus

April 7, 2020, 4:11 AM

The U.S. military is 3D-printing face shields, designing reusable plastic N95 masks and sewing surgical masks to increase the supply of critical medical equipment as hospitals across the U.S. work to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Nine Navy and Marine Corps commands began their 3D-printing efforts on March 28 after the Federal Emergency Management Agency requested the initial production of 220 medical face shields, the Navy said in a news release.

Days later, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition authorized all of its commands to support FEMA requests, saying that the country is in a national emergency so they "must engage accordingly."

The U.S. military is uniquely poised to assist in the production of personal protective equipment because of its expertise in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.

David Hamm, an engineer in the Mechanisms and Modeling and Simulation Lab at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., inspects a 3D printed face shield as part of the COVID-19 response effort, March 28, 2020.
Peter Fitzpatrick/U.S. Navy

The Marine Corps' Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell (AMOC) was the first to receive FEMA's request for 220 face shields before alerting other Department of the Navy manufacturers.

"Every (additive manufacturing) producer I reached out to stepped up," said Marine Capt. Matthew Audette, an advanced manufacturing project officer with AMOC. "It speaks volumes of our additive manufacturing community that every group was confident that they could produce the entire request on their own. We broke it up to distribute the load."

A face shield is manufactured using 3-D printing in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's request to the Department of the Navy in support of COVID-19 response effort at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, March 29, 2020.
Peter Fitzpatrick/U.S. Navy

According to the Navy, the department is now working with the Pentagon and industry "to determine the volume and scope of (additive manufacturing) requests, the capacity to manufacture and distribute production across sites and ensure quality standards."

And those efforts are extending across the entire U.S. military.

Some Air Force instructors have started 3D printing, not only face shields, but reusable plastic N95 face masks, the service said.

Instructors with the 312th Training Squadron's Special Instruments Training course at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas were inspired by similar efforts they saw on social media.

PHOTO: Tech. Sgt. Tracy Gibbs prepares a 3D printed N95 face mask to be printed through modeling software at the Louis F Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, March 31, 2020.
Tech. Sgt. Tracy Gibbs, 312th Training Squadron Special Instruments Training course graduate, prepares a 3D printed N95 face mask to be printed through modeling software at the Louis F Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, March 31, 2020.
U.S. Air Force

“We saw other people 3D printing medical supplies, and we thought we should try printing things like face masks and face shields,” said Master Sgt. Manuel Campo, special instruments training flight chief.

The instructors found a free model online for a 3D-printable, high-efficiency filtration mask designed by a neurosurgeon in Billings, Montana, who worked with a dental company to create the masks.

The group plans to present their prototypes to a medical group to see if they can meet hospitals' needs during the pandemic.

A mechanical engineer at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport, works on parts for face shield prototypes, in Keyport, Wash., March 25, 2020.
U.S. Navy

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, 1st Special Forces Group soldiers who normally use sewing machines to repair parachutes are now producing surgical masks, according to the Defense Department.

The Group Support Battalion is creating the masks, along with prototypes for respirator masks and 3D face shields, for its local Madigan Army Medical Center and regional partners.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Bahr, 312th Training Squadron Special Instruments Training course instructor, prepares a 3D printed face shield at the Louis F Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, March 31, 2020.
U.S. Air Force

The Aerial Delivery Platoon is already able to produce 200 masks in a day with expectations to eventually produce 1,000 to 1,500 masks per week, said Army Lt. Col. Christopher S. Jones, the battalion's commander.

"I believe this is a phenomenal effort to help our health care professionals and fellow Americans," Jones said. "We're collaborating with (Army Special Operations Forces) and conventional forces across the Army to make a difference. The effort in and of itself is a worthwhile exercise in how to innovate to provide solutions, especially as the U.S. military has the best capability in the world."

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