A Manufacturing Force To Be Reckoned With
COVID-19 is changing the way we make things. For inventors and engineers, it is allowing a different energy and enthusiasm toward iteration to take place. That is, some are willing to make more mistakes and make them faster, and find a way to solve real-time problems in the wake of this pandemic.
There is no lack of big companies pouring big resources into helping with the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages. Think HP, Dassault Systèmes, Stratasys, and 3D Systems, just to name a handful. Add to it the many small companies who are turning entire manufacturing lines or processes into wartime-like efforts. It is not a matter of big competing with small, but both unifying to attack a global problem not seen in our lifetimes. Let’s look at a few who are helping us fight the coronavirus:
Many Supplyframe readers and engineers of all types know Adafruit, a small electronics manufacturer in New York City, but they may not realize how important this nimble company is to the city as it provides essential services. After receiving the “essential business” designation by the Mayor and Governor of New York, they were able to re-open last week, and within two hours, provide components and electronics for ventilator support in addition to electronics for ongoing medical device efforts. Plus, they are making and distributing some PPE face shields.
Growing up in New York, when I asked Phil and Limor on Twitter how it was going, their response: “#NewYorkStrong — as we battle this pandemic, we are all New Yorkers now.”
With the need for ventilators going off the charts, California-based Royal Circuits, known most for their quick-turn prototype printed circuit boards (PCBs) — rigid, rigid-flex, and flex, is also deep in the making of ventilators for one of the best known names in ventilators: Medtronic. Their circuit boards are important in the operation of two types of ventilators being produced. However, to support the increased level of production needed to fight this pandemic, they have added additional shifts and asked employees to work longer hours (with appropriate smart distancing and other measures to ensure safety for all workers). Placing parts on flexible circuit boards is a very specialized service and only a handful of U.S. companies are capable of doing the assembly. Royal Circuits teams are handling both the fabrication and assembly of the boards for Medtronic ventilators.
Medtronic announced they are publicly sharing the design specifications for the Puritan Bennett™ 560 (PB 560) to enable participants across industries to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing.
Thermaxx, a specialty manufacturer of high-tech (as in wireless monitoring), energy-saving, insulated blankets for pipes, valves, and machinery, is a story unto itself. To get right to it: Due to COVID-19, Thermaxx quickly converted its insulation blanket factory line to make disposable gowns for first responders.
Before March, this Connecticut-based manufacturer had never made a product for humans, but they knew they could make a big difference in the world of first responders. Within two days of announcing their disposable gown over 2,000 were requested by over 40 organizations from hospitals to fire departments. By April 1st, 130 groups have requested more than 5000 gowns from Thermaxx. They can barely keep up and are wondering how they can turn a free gown into the profits that support their company, but that question has to wait so they can do their part to keep people safe now. They also made the gown design available to the public here.
Manufacturing factories are far more common today and in more unusual places than you might think. For example, you probably do not think of 3D printers housed within architecture or design firms as a “manufacturing facility,” but today, all across the USA and world, firms are dedicating their own printers, laser cutters, or cutting machines creating ad hoc facilities as a first line of defense to help the front lines of medical workers. This terrific Forbes piece chronicles how BIG, the Bjarke Ingels Group in New York, are teaming up with other architects to use their smaller, but now connected, printer farms together to print face shields. What was once a small farm of machines working on models or product designs, is now producing hundreds and thousands of face shield parts. Not only that, they have used their design skills to make the 3D models better and easier to print in quantity.
Gantri is a terrific hybrid example of all of the above — a manufacturer that makes elegant, designer lights using 3D printers as its main method of production. The California-based company even designed their own customized 3D printer to suit their exact needs. With the COVID-19 shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, the company shifted from making lights to only producing PPE in their factory. In addition, to ensure the safety of employees, they have instituted contact-free shifts and strict sanitizing protocols as precautions (as have all of the others in this post). Currently, from their factory alone, they have shipped almost 1,800 units of the visor frames to hospitals throughout the US. They have been printing the 3D-printed protective visor from the Swedish company, 3DVerkstan. It is quick to print and easy to assemble.
Manufacturing, while it appears to be static to some, is always undergoing change, shifting as the product or market need changes. COVID-19 has not dramatically changed the mindset of the nimble-minded, fast-moving players in everything from electronics to insulation, but it has served as a reminder of what is most important in business and in life: People. So as you read these stories and others, remember there are people making sacrifices, hard choices, to come and serve in this challenging time. Support them, encourage them, and remember, we are all New Yorkers now. Stay strong, stay healthy, and keep your distance.
Also, a brief shout out to the many 3D printer companies that helped me wrap my head around this topic this week: the Portland 3D Printing Lab, Tinkerine (3D printer maker), Proto-pasta (filament maker), Hydra Research, and MatterHackers with its new Maker Response Hub that has matched healthcare providers with the individuals and groups who are making PPE face shields and more. Their effort has shipped over 3,500 PPE-related components, and they have over 10,000 printers ready to print (across the hub’s new members). They teamed up with ATHENA Rapid Response Innovation Lab, a nonprofit organization focused on bringing quick manufacturing solutions to people during times of crisis.
Note: Many of the manufacturing companies and industry suppliers are running these initiatives out of their own pockets, which is not sustainable, so if you are interested in helping some of them financially or with your time and equipment, you can reach out to them via the above links.