As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe in early 2020, a new three-letter acronym spread with it: PPE, short for personal protective equipment, which was suddenly both in high demand and short supply. Lockdowns to curb the virus’ infection rate disrupted the worldwide supply chains that moved products between designers, manufacturers, assemblers, distributors, and customers, revealing that the global consumer economy was like a house of cards — structurally impressive, but fragile.
Local labs, maker spaces, and hobbyists with access to 3D printers jumped into the fray, helping to fill the gap between PPE supply and demand by manufacturing face shields and other equipment for frontline health care workers. Multiple groups at the Wyss Institute used 3D printers and laser cutters to prototype and produce face shields that were evaluated at several Boston-area hospitals, and nearly 1,000 of them were then distributed to local hospitals and clinics.
But a co-leader of that effort, James Weaver, knew they could do more.