By: Jared N. Matlis, Research Assistant
Preparedness is a skill which is necessary for success in any situation, whether it is a job, schooling, or warfare. So much so that it is immortalized in the Latin phrase Si vis pacem, para bellum, in other words, “if you want peace, prepare for war”. This is a sentiment which the United States knows well, as it has the undisputed best equipped and powerful military in the world. However, a report from the America Makes <AMCPR> initiative “Assessing the Role of Additive Manufacturing in Support of the U.S. Covid-19 Response”, underwritten by the FDA, depicts how in 2020 the United States was caught unprepared by the invasion of Covid-19.
At the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, acquiring PPE was an issue for both medical professionals and private citizens. This deficiency has reverberated throughout the pandemic, impacting both medical outcomes and public opinions. America Makes’ report explores the cause of the scarcity, how we addressed it, and how we can avoid it in the future.
Through extensive research, America Makes concluded that three primary issues resulted in PPE and other shortages:
- The lack of a well monitored PPE stockpile, required hospitals to rely on their severely limited resources to deal with this national threat.
- A reliance on “just-in-time manufacturing”, which was easily and quickly overwhelmed by the pandemic, paralyzing the medical community.
- The production facilities needed to carry out this “just-in-time manufacturing” were based in countries and regions already crippled by the virus.
Even before the pandemic, the U.S had been procrastinating when it came to amassing critical PPE and other medical devices. As a result, when the war of Covid-19 came to their borders, the U.S. lacked medical devices needed to combat it and was unable to quickly acquire more.
However, the implementation and utilization of Additive Manufacturing allowed the country to rebound from the initial failure and recover. According to the AMCPR document, 3D printing was used by both pivot producers and community producers. The former are manufacturing companies which transitioned to produce PPE and other necessary devices. In contrast, community producers are non-commercial groups and individuals who used their access to 3D-printers to manufacture necessary medical devices and their components.
This support was vital to the continued effort to fight the pandemic. These were able to produce items like Ventilator parts, Test Swabs, Face Shield parts, Mask parts, and Ear Savers long before this was even possible by traditional means. As a result, vital establishments like hospitals, clinics, and businesses were able to remain open long enough for more robust support to arrive.
Initially, the independent producers relied on their own skills and resources to assist the public. To standardize their assistance the COVID 3D TRUST was formed, a collaboration of NIH, NIAID, FDA, VHA and America Makes. This partnership aimed to support the independent community producers by evaluating and recommending the additive manufacturing designs posted to the NIH Exchange. This was essential to the success of implementation of additive manufacturing as it designated specific designs which were acceptable for use in clinical settings.
With this assistance, Additive Manufacturing’s flexibility was able to compensate for the United States PPE shortcomings. By its very nature, Additive Manufacturing can produce a variety of products and components with little to no modification. This means that the U.S. current capacity for 3D-printing can be swiftly adjusted to deal with obstacles as they appear. Further, the nation’s capacity for this method will grow as the technology becomes more widespread. Finally, with the formation of new groups like the COVID 3D TRUST, dedicated to coordinating and equipping this fleet of adaptable manufacturers, producers will be ready when the next need arises.
Two conclusions can be drawn that could greatly reduce the reliance on foreign supply chains for pandemics in the future. First, is the prioritization of a well-regulated stockpile for PPE and reduced reliance on foreign assembly lines for them. Without these crucial preparations, the United States would likely be left just as vulnerable to the next pandemic as this one. Second, part of this preparation should definitely be investment in Additive Manufacturing facilities and research. This approach could have a massive impact not only on healthcare but could also redefine the way we deal with future obstacles that have a negative impact on our citizen’s well-being and the economy.
“Si vis sanitatem, para pandemicum” (If you want health, prepare for a pandemic)
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