(3-)DIY Projects to Thwart the Spread of Coronavirus

May 15, 2020

3D Systems has made plans for diagnostic and PPE gear available in the public domain so that healthcare professionals can print their own items as needed, when needed.
Credit 3D Systems

3D Systems, an international 3-D printing equipment company with a plastics manufacturing plant in Rock Hill, is a major reason why 3-D printing is a thing in the first place. That put the company in a pretty good spot to be an early responder to the call for personal protective equipment (PPE) and small specialty parts for hospital machines like ventilators.

But with those “early brushfires” mostly under control, the company’s vice president and general manager of plastics, Menno Ellis, says 3D Systems is now focusing on the next most-needed thing in the fight to rein in COVID-19: diagnostic equipment.

Diagnostic swabs capable of collecting samples of the disease are critical to health officials’ ability to identify the reach of the coronavirus, as well as its patterns. As it did for PPE face shields and ventilator splitters, 3D systems is making plans available online so that anyone with good 3-D printing capabilities can make as many swabs as they can manage.

Ellis says the company put many of its designs for COVID-fighting gear and equipment online as public domain.

“Part of what we’re doing here is a bit of a service to our society at large,” he says. “We’re not … focused on maximizing the profit opportunity.”

The plans are not specific to 3D Systems’ equipment, meaning they can be followed by owners and operators of competitors’ equipment.

The company’s efforts come at a time when the pandemic is taxing its bottom line.

“COVID-19 has been a negative impact on our overall business,” said 3D Systems CEO Vyomesh Joshi during a recent webcast and conference call about the company’s first-quarter financial report.

The company posted a Q1 revenue of $134.71 million, which is down from $151.98 million a year earlier. Joshi said that a drop in demand from the aerospace, automotive, and healthcare industries, three of its key customers, was a large reason for the drop-off.

Another reason was the decrease in demand from healthcare systems for pieces used in elective surgeries, most of which got postponed or canceled as stay-at-home orders set in around the world. The dip in demand meant fewer hardware sale (printers and plastics) and software licenses, Joshi said.

Ellis says that given the company’s presence in Asia and Europe, where the outbreak hit earlier than in the United States, 3D Systems saw the problem well before it got here.

“This stuff started hitting our radar screen right around the holiday timeframe,” he says. 3D Systems started by figuring out how to keep employees safe and then started looking for how to contribute to the efforts to control the disease.

Ellis says the plastics production operations in Rock Hill – the materials used to make on-demand, on-location components – are central to the company’s efforts to stay in the fight against the spread of COVID.