3D Printing Serves Frontline Healthcare Workers

3D Printing Serves Frontline Healthcare Workers

April 23, 2020

The sudden spread of the novel coronavirus has undoubtedly put a strain on the healthcare system as well as a demand for supplies. As non-medical professionals began purchasing gloves, masks, face shields, and other items commonly used in the medical field to protect themselves, hospitals and medical facilities began to experience a shortage.

Research facilities such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) began to reach out to their network of professors and leaders to identify individuals who could assist in a manufacturing effort, aiming at creating masks and shields using 3D printers. Kais Al-Rawi, a Senior Enclosure Technical Designer for Walter P Moore’s Los Angeles office, was actively seeking opportunities to utilize his unique skill set and support the community.

It didn’t take long for the University of Southern California (USC) Professor Alvin Huang to enlist Al-Rawi in #OperationPPE, an initiative organized to construct protective gear that could prove pivotal to fighting the virus if existing stocks are depleted. The regional network of 3D-printers scattered across participating architecture firms and universities, including USC, Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Cal Poly’s LA Metro program, among several others.  

While people around the world were printing and producing designs, many were not medically approved and could potentially cause more harm. #OperationPPE selected NIH approved designs for face masks and shields and began mobilizing their team. As more volunteers signed up, they were able to list what materials they had, their equipment, and keep track of production.

“We utilize 3D-printing on our projects for prototyping structural components, however, the opportunities the technology offers are limitless and it’s exciting to leverage its use on an initiative that supports our communities,” adds Al-Rawi. Working with two printers, Al-Rawi chose a face shield bracket design that allowed him to have optimal layout capacity, printing up to four pieces at once, lending a production rate of 12 per day.

All participants bring their products to drop-off locations where members from the USC Keck team retrieve them for sanitation and assembly before they are distributed to healthcare workers.

The initiative continues to grow as well. Nearly 200 strong, at the time of publication, the team had completed over 2,200 shields and nearly 3,000 masks but with some hospitals requesting up to 1,000 pieces of protection per day, they are still pressing toward their goal of 6,000 masks. In addition to companies supporting their employee’s efforts, the USC team has support from AIA California Council and AIA|LA which are now providing printing teams with materials, including additional spools of PLA, the plastic filament used to fabricate the masks. “The collective effort organized by Alvin Huang has allowed us as a design community to provide a positive contribution, in a much greater way than if each of us worked individually,” says Al-Rawi.

However, at the core of the initiative is a desire to give back. To utilize expertise and capabilities in a way that reaches past typical industry boundaries and servers a global good. “As architects and engineers we can leverage our problem-solving mentality to any scale and any problem,” says Al-Rawi. “This initiative is a great example of how we can contribute to our communities.”


The designers have published a sign-up sheet for those interested in contributing to the effort.