Jan 13, 2021 - Technology

An "emergency alert system" for PPE 3D printing

Image of 3D printer

A 3D printer used for manufacturing personal protective equipment. Photo: International Engineering & Technologies, Inc.

A 3D-printer platform is sending out machines to hundreds of manufacturers in Michigan as part of an effort to create a network that can print out personal protective equipment on demand.

Why it matters: Networked 3D printers can serve as a rapidly scalable backup system for PPE — and showcase the potential of a new method of manufacturing.

What's happening: In October, Automation Alley — Michigan's advanced manufacturing hub — launched Project DIAMOnD, an effort to create the world's largest 3D printer network.

  • The project aims to strengthen supply chains for PPE by distributing advanced 3D printers that could manufacture protective equipment like face shields on demand.
  • This week, Markforged — creator of the world’s largest metal and carbon fiber additive manufacturing platform — announced it sent 3D printers to more than 200 small and medium-sized manufacturers in the Wolverine State as part of the project.

How it works: "I liken it to a kind of emergency alert system" for manufacturing PPE on demand, says Michael Papish, chief evangelist at Markforged.

  • The advanced 3D printers operate on a network, so blueprints for PPE can be instantly sent out to manufacturers if the Michigan government feels a need to bolster supplies.
  • When the printers aren't needed for PPE, manufacturers can use them as they desire to bolster their own businesses.

The big picture: The advantage of networked 3D printers is that a decentralized group of manufacturers can quickly be enlisted to produce equipment on the spot, without worrying about knotty supply chains.

The bottom line: Just as software fixes can be rapidly iterated and pushed out to networked devices, connected 3D printers promises to bring the same flexibility "to making physical things," says Papish.

Go deeper