How the 3D design for a face shield was developed in the Syracuse area, modified and tested in Columbus Ohio in collaboration with a local VA hospital and then made its way to the NIH 3D Print Exchange where it was approved for clinical use.

Filament is the stuff that 3D printed dreams are made of. Today the dream is addressing the shortage of medical equipment and supplies in hospitals. While PLA is a popular material for hobbyist projects, many are using PETG filament for face shields and other PPE because it can be sanitized.

While unemployment rates are now at historic levels, IC3D Industries, a filament manufacturer in Columbus Ohio with 13 employees, has had to add employees because the COVID-19 crisis is creating a big demand for filament, according to Kimberly Gibson, co-owner and Chief Mischief Officer. “Our filament lines are now running 24/7 with three shifts,” she said. “There is growing need for the PETG (filament) that we’re producing.” IC3D has pulled most of their business from Amazon in order to fulfill orders directly, getting the filament to print shops all over the country. “There are makers who really want to help, and maybe they pulled a file down, but they’re printing it in PLA,” Kimberly added. “Please don’t print it in PLA. Use PETG.”

Spools of filament at IC3D in Columbus, Ohio.

Isaac Budmen was from one of those print shops that called IC3D to check on the availability of filament. From about the middle of March, Isaac began designing a 3D printed face shield, a design that was to bear his name. Isaac and his partner, Stephanie Keefe, are the principals behind Budmen Industries, a manufacturer of specialized 3D printers in Liverpool, New York, a town just outside Syracuse. Isaac got into making 3D printers in 2012 coming to it from a background in interactive art; Stephanie was a photographer and pastry chef. When they began working together, they built an open-frame 3D printer with a large bed that they could use for their own projects. Eventually, that machine evolved into the Buildini product line of 3D printers from Budmen Industries, “home of industrial imagination.”

At the end of January, Isaac sent several requests for quotes to factories in China, asking about various parts required for their line of Buildini 3D printers. It was around the Chinese New Year. After waiting until early February, Isaac finally received emails from factory reps who said they could not provide a quote because the factories had closed because of the coronavirus. “That’s when I knew that this thing was going to be a lot bigger than we thought it was,” Isaac told me. “That’s when our plan started to shift a little.” He and Stephanie began following the spread of the virus from China to the US.

Stephanie Keefe and Isaac Budmen assembling face shields in Liverpool, NY.

“We’re upstate New York, right?” said Isaac. “We’re that part of the state everybody forgets about.” They grew concerned when they started seeing shortages of medical supplies. “Steph and I were wondering if there’s something 3D printing could do to help. When our County Executive here in Onondaga County said that they were opening a COVID-19 testing site, we thought that we could print something and donate it to them — because most of our state’s resources were being funneled down to the city.” They saw their effort as helping out their hometown. Isaac remembers it was Friday March 13th when local testing began and he and Steph talked about it over dinner.

On Saturday, he said, they got up and did “housework and whatnot,” but then they rather casually began prototyping and mocked something up on the computer. “We printed it out,” said Isaac. “Like all first prototypes, it was a disaster.” On Sunday, they went to the hardware store and picked up materials and kept working. Soon they had the first version of the design that would become known as the Budmen Face Shield.

“We came up with a shield design that we thought was comfortable, fit a variety of different head sizes, and then was tested for usability, which is critical,” said Isaac. They tried different ways of placing the straps that hold the face shield firmly on a wearer’s head. By six o’clock Sunday evening, they had finished the design and sent it to six different printers, which would run through the night. By late Monday, they had 50 face shields.

Isaac Budmen wearing a prototype of his face shield design.

Later that day, they reached out to a friend who had done some work with the County Executive’s office. They asked if the person knew whether the county would accept donations of PPE. That person offered to make a call and find out. “On Tuesday morning at about 8 a.m., I got a call from the County Exec’s office that said:

‘Hey, we heard you have 50 shields to donate.’

‘Yeah, dude, do you need them?’

‘Can you make 300 more?’

And that’s when Steph and I were like, ‘Oh…’”

They could see the demand curve going up, as did the local hospitals, which actually had enough PPE for several weeks but believed they’d run out as the rate of infections grew. After initially worrying that hospitals in the area wouldn’t accept PPE donations, Isaac saw the opposite happen – hospitals were reaching out and would take as much as they could produce.

The donation became a story in the local paper and the article spread through the internet. “While we were making face shields, I looked at my phone and we had like some 400 emails,” said Isaac. There were basically two kinds of emails. One was from healthcare workers from around the country who were saying: “I need this. Can you make them for us?” The other was people with 3D printers who wanted to help make the face shields.

“That’s the beautiful thing about people who had 3D printers,” said Isaac. “They were willing to put them to work right away replicating the design. They wanted the files. They wanted to do this for their own town.” Isaac quickly shared the files on the website for Budmen Industries.

“We made a little assembly guide, with photos and a bill of materials,” said Isaac. “The other thing we did is we started registering the requests from the health care organizations.” They found themselves as matchmakers, connecting health care organizations who needed PPE with the makers nearest to them who had 3D printers and could make and assemble the face shields. “We put them in touch with each other,” said Isaac. Now matching is being handled by a team of six volunteers, as they have requests for over 400,000 face shields.

Seeing his production needs ramp up so quickly, Isaac reached out to IC3D in Columbus, Ohio. He called not just about needing filament, though. Budmen Industries was fielding requests for hospitals in Ohio and thought the folks at IC3D could also help find more makers with 3D printers in that area. He talked to IC3D founder and co-owner, Michael Cao. 

Michael grew up a maker but he got an engineering degree and worked in product development in the automotive industry for 13 years before founding IC3D in 2012. “A lot of my background and experience is making sure things meet safety specs, follow regulations, and looking at long-term reliability. So when we saw these designs for 3D printed face shields, the first thing we jumped to was some due diligence.” Within a day, they built up several different designs, including the Budmen and the Prusa designs.

IC3D had a connection with the local VA hospital where they had donated filament and other supplies. They reached out to the Innovation team that had some 3D printers and soon they were field testing the face shields with doctors from the pulmonology team. “They gave us feedback,” said Michael.. “They said they didn’t like some of them, particularly where the top of the shield was open, like the Prusa design. They liked the Budman design the best, but they had a handful of requirements or requests for improvements.”

The team at IC3D asked Isaac to share his designs with them, and Isaac did that right away, sharing a STEP file that they asked for. He welcomed any improvements that they could make, not at all being protective of his design. “We did really fast field testing, really fast product iteration for the doctors,” said Michael. The hospital was 20 minutes away and they’d return to their lab, make modifications, and then head back to the hospital to show them the new version. “We were just going back and forth as quickly as possible — go back, talk to engineers, iterate, print something new in an hour, hour and a half and bring it to hospital.” One of the modifications was to make it sturdier for repeated uses.

Isaac had reached out to local Congressman, Rep. John Katko. “We asked if he could put us in touch with the CDC,” said Isaac. At this time, the CDC had just issued guidelines for health care workers to use a scarf or bandana if a face mask was unavailable. Isaac wanted to let the CDC know that “thousands of people are signing up to print these face shields and we want to make sure that they’re done in the most effective and safest way possible.” The Congressman’s office tried to reach out to the CDC on their behalf.

Through the innovation team at the VA Hospital in Columbus, IC3D was connecting to 3D printing experts in the VA. Separately, the VA, the FDA, and the NIH, along with America Makes, formed an new inter-agency group to review face shields, masks, and designs for other equipment that could be 3D printed. Michael from IC3D called Isaac to say that the IC3D Budmen Face Shield got approved through the VA and there’s this thing happening where it’s all going to go up on the NIH website. About 48 hours later, NIH had launched its COVID-19 special collection.

The NIH had used its existing NIH 3D Print Exchange to post tested designs. “On the site,” explained Isaac “you have the clinically reviewed designs, the designs that are in review, and then the designs that have significant risks to them.” The IC3D Budmen Face Shield design was among the first to be reviewed and approved for clinical use. There are now 8 Budmen designs on the NIH site.

Screenshot of Budmen Face Shield Designs on NIH 3D Print Exchange.

Isaac could not believe how fast it happened; he called it “stunning,” how quickly the federal government responded, perhaps a model of how Plan C can support and be supported by Plan A. It all happened with no one from any of those agencies connecting with Budmen directly.

Kimberly Gibson, co-owner and Chief Mischief Officer of IC3D wearing the IC3D Budmen Face Shield

Kimberly was excited to see this process move so fast from a shared open-source design through the rapid validation and testing and then moving across multiple government agencies. “It is just the kind of thing that never happens, right?” she said. “To my knowledge, the Budmen design, which was iterated with medical professionals and government regulators, was the first one to make it fully through this brand new process.”

She added: “I think it is worth noting that the grassroots and industrial 3D printing community collaborating together is what made this happen, weeks before government and big business responded.” She added: “Innovation often takes giant leaps during a crisis because rules like patent and intellectual property protection don’t mean much when people are dying.” Kimberly believes that the civic response of Plan C efforts “has to take the lead because government and big business aren’t able to respond as quickly.”

How much NIH approval matters is hard to say. Isaac gave me this example, though: “I spoke to a local hospital yesterday in the Finger Lakes region. And, she said:

‘Hi, I’m just inquiring. I know you guys are donating face shields. We’ve had some donations and some of them don’t work. So is there any way you could send me like a photo of what you guys have?’

I said, ‘Well, I can also tell you that it’s got NIH approval.’

She said, ‘No further questions. We’ll take that one.’”

Both Isaac and Kimberly agree that the maker community should focus on using approved designs. It’s time to focus on producing more units, not designs. “It’s part of the beauty of the 3D printing community that people are endlessly inventive,” said Isaac. “But now that there are some designs approved by the NIH, then we should be looking for the other places that we can use our design talents.” Getting more makers making face shields, based on the approved designs, is the priority. They can make the Budmen Face Shield to meet needs in their own communities or for other communities where the need is greater, and there are local adaptations of the design.

Having met some success addressing the needs in her local area, Kimberly realized that much of the Midwest, with the exception of Detroit, was okay but there were hotspots elsewhere including NYC and New Orleans. “We’re looking for print and assembly for the hardest scenarios,” she said. “What are we doing for the regional hospitals in the rural areas, where they don’t really have access at all to other sources for PPE?”

Where she thinks IC3D can play a big role is helping makers get the material they need. “Makers are not going to be able to get the clear plastic sheets or the elastic bands.” she said, beginning to list numerous materials that are getting hard to find. “One of the things we’re doing is we’ve fired up the supply chain,” she said. “Since we’re in Ohio, with Michigan and all these places nearby, we have access to a lot of resources.”

“Even the simple face shield has basically four components, and three of them are not 3D printed,” said Michael. He recalled that the first couple of days of building prototypes, they bought their supplies from Walmart, Michael’s, and Home Depot and that allowed them to build the sample shields quickly. On day four, however, these stores were sold out of the supplies they needed. Michael added that IC3D has recently made a big financial commitment to stock the supplies that makers will need over the coming months. “We are quickly building the supply chain to last at least as long as the pandemic, he added. IC3D has been offering supplies for free to local makers.

Back at Budmen Industries, Isaac said they continued to field requests from hospitals and from makers who want to help. At the same time, they were ramping up their own production. “We actually just brought an injection mold online last week so that we can produce more and donate more.” Right now, Budmen is producing a thousand face shields a day locally.  By the middle of April, they will have produced 10,000 here in Upstate NY. “We know that hospitals in the Boston area have received between 15,000-20,000 Budmen design faceshields,” said Isaac in email. “There is also a well organized group that has been operating out of NYC producing about 7,000 so far.” They have not done any tracking on the many thousand individuals who are producing them all over the world. However, working with a professor at Syracuse University, they are estimating somewhere around 100,000 have been made. On GoFundMe, They have raised $28.5K to support their efforts.

Budmen Industries set up a makeshift factory in a soundstage. (Image Credit: Dennis Nett)

I asked Isaac about building the civic infrastructure and training more people to participate in this kind of civic response. “I love that phrase, civic infrastructure. At our local operation here, we moved our 14 3D printers over to an unused soundstage. We have, up until today, had 35 volunteers in and out of there. But we downsized today for social distancing purposes. One of the volunteers was a 72-year-old Vietnam vet. Never seen a 3D printer before in his life. By the end of the two weeks, he was a pro at operating 3D printers.”

The lesson that Isaac Budmen is taking away is that “3D printing has this amazing ability to prove itself useful in just about any scenario.” He and Stephanie are interested in exploring that future.

What You Can Do:

Visit the IC3D COVID-19 response page.

Visit Budmen Industries and register.