4/23/2020 | 2 MINUTE READ

Community Addresses Coronavirus PPE Backlog with 3D Printing

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As the COVID-19 crisis has deepened, Rocklin Manufacturing has been addressing the need to fulfill the growing PPE backlog by not only turning to 3D printing, but by also connecting with its local community.

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The moldmaking industry is experiencing unimaginable effects from the coronavirus crisis in a multitude of ways. But the most drastic and time-sensitive impacts are being felt by those on the front lines, the heroic health care workers. As the COVID-19 crisis has deepened, Rocklin Manufacturing (Sioux City, IA) has been trying to solve one basic question: “How can we help?”

The 86-year-old company, which manufactures the Rocklinizer Carbide Application Equipment that optimizes gripping and extends the life of metals, tools and dies, has a long history of stepping up in times of need, dating back to its around-the-clock support of the WWII effort. So naturally, they’re answering the call to step up once more and provide support to those who most need it in this global crisis.

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The company found several unused N95 masks in its facility and contacted one of its local hospitals. The hospital had an immediate need and picked them up right away. The next question was, “Do you have any face shields?” Unfortunately, Rocklin did not.

The following day, the company came across an article about 3D printing face shields as a means to fulfill the growing PPE backlog. Rocklin had recently purchased a 3D printer to address an internal need. Could they repurpose it to print face shields or accommodate other pressing PPE needs?

The company contacted the hospital with its concept and learned that they weren’t the only ones thinking along those lines. The hospital connected Rocklin with another local company that shared a simpler concept, which used transparency paper affixed to the 3D-printed visor with black spring paper clips. It has become difficult to source the shield component as demand has increased dramatically nationwide, so this new design solved that issue and would also enable the hospital to standardize the process.

The hospital then informed Rocklin they required "ear savers" that wrap around the back of health care workers' heads, a much-needed addition since the mask elastic is painfully wearing away at their skin. The company and other local firms are now following the same process to produce thousands of each item.

Rocklin then identified another opportunity to pitch in. A local sewing factory transitioned their facility and enlisted several other volunteers to sew thousands of masks. They needed help embedding wire that is bent to keep the mask affixed to the wearer’s face. The Rocklin team then bent over 2,000 wires that have since been inserted into masks used by health care workers and others in need. 

So that others with a 3D printer may pursue a similar path to help ensure health care workers on the front lines have the protective equipment they need, Rocklin provided the design they have used for visors and the design used for ear savers

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