A serious potential drawback of the just-in-time economy (JIT) is that when the demand for critical supplies increase sharply, that supply is not immediately available, which in the current corporate cluster-fuck known as COVID-19 leaves our front-line health care staff with a broomstick jammed so far up their arse that you can follow them around like Hansel and Grettel from the ass blood they are hemorrhaging down onto the floor they walk on. Personal protective equipment (PEE) is critical to public health-care staff and sadly many of these hero’s lives have already been lost during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis due to supply chain short comings.
In some ways, 3D printing has proven itself to be more agile during this crisis. For one, the 3D printer allows production of a wider array of products than any other single device. For example, during the COVID-19 outbreak, 3D printing companies were immediately able to respond to the demand for face-shields, and other PPE products such as respirator masks. Although the speed of a 3D printer is slow compared to traditional manufacturing, it is able to respond to design changes very quickly. This can be evidenced by a growing number of diverse printable medical PPE face-shields available in real-time as the pandemic escalated.
The 3D printing community has also produced innovative product designs that can allow medical personnel to use their existing stockpile of PPE more efficiently. A novel 3D printed face-mask, for example, allows a single N-95 protective mask to be cut into multiple pieces, and then secured within a breathing mash, thereby multiplying a single mask for use by multiple people. However, caution must be taken to assure that any modification still provides the same level of protection required for the medical task it’s being used for.
I’m happy to be producing 3D printed face-shields for a local hospital. This local hospital is also in a remote location at the end of the supply chain. Since the situation is still evolving, we have yet to see how being at that far-end of the supply chain will impact prices or availability here. One thing is for certain though, it’s horrible to see friends, family, and members of the community, who work in health-care going to work during a dangerous and deadly pandemic without the supplies they need to protect their life. So, it’s worth raising questions about the value of 3D printing during a time of crisis such as:
- What other incidents can 3D printers be used to mitigate the danger of ?
- What preparations should be made ensure access to useful 3D designs and a cache of necessary supplies?
Not only has the domination of the mega-conglomerate forced all of our eggs into these large baskets, but when they fail to serve us in time of need, at least in the case if the USA, require enormous liquid injections of cash to stay afloat.