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OM in the News: 3-D Printing Hobbyists to the Rescue

June 10, 2020

Owen Plumb helped start a group in Alberta that has printed 1,000 face shields.

Practically overnight, 3-D-printing enthusiasts have remolded their home-based hobby into an emergency production line for scarce personal protective equipment for front-line workers, writes The Wall Street Journal (June 9, 2020).

Thousands of volunteers have banded together on several continents to help in the face of the pandemic crisis. Some 8,000 members of a British design group called 3D Crowd UK have printed parts for more than 170,000 face shields using 3-D printers in their homes. The group also arranges for the face shields’ assembly and distribution to hospitals and other health organizations in Britain.

The group is just one of a growing number of supply chains to spring up in Britain, the U.S. and Canada, staffed by 3-D-printing hobbyists and entrepreneurs helping to make PPE for health-care and other front-line workers. The groups illustrate the potential for harnessing the power of distributed manufacturing to deliver products on a large scale. Such community-driven approaches are “incredibly agile and well-suited to respond quickly to local needs'” says a U. of Cambridge prof.

Before Covid-19, Owen Plumb, 13, who lives in Alberta, Canada used his 3-D printer to create robots and toy-rocket parts. In March, Owen helped create a local group that has now 3-D-printed 1,000 face shields, many of which have been distributed to front-line essential workers at a local hospice and to other institutions lacking PPE. Likewise, the nonprofit Glia Project in London, Ontario, has provided roughly 5,000 face shields to small and midsize hospitals and clinics around Canada. And at Michigan State University, one professor has helped organize a group of 40 people who have printed 8,000 face shields for health-care workers in Michigan.

Classroom discussion questions:
1. What are the strengths of 3-D printing (often called additive manufacturing). Hint: see Chapter 7, p.295 of your OM text.

2. What are the downsides of this grass roots system?


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