The entire industrial base of this country is stepping up to meet the corona virus pandemic: car companies are making medical ventilators, clothing manufacturers are turning out surgical masks, and multinational beer companies are brewing hand sanitizer.
Now the plastic injection molding medical parts industry is stepping up, although a lot of the prototyping is being created through 3-D printing. For example, a Colorado company is gearing up to help that state’s response to the pandemic. It will soon begin production of clear-plastic medical face visors. To date, they’ve only produced a few dozen but they will soon ramp up production through plastic injection molding after 3-D prototyping. The prototypes have been sent out to governmental leaders, as well as healthcare officials, for testing. 3-D printing technology can also build things like ventilator valves, breathing filters and face mask clasps. And other large companies are brainstorming entirely new pandemic-related devices, such as plastic door handle adaptors which enable easy elbow opening to prevent further spread of the virus. Those kinds of innovative ideas are only possible because of the lightning-fast prototyping capability of 3D printing.
In the short term, many companies without 3D printing capability will outsource those projects to other companies which do. Then, when the prototype has been approved by the FDA (a process, that has been greatly sped-up, by the way), it will be turned into a conventional plastic injection mold for mass production.
One company said that, after plastic injecting molding production begins, they can begin churning out 5,000 – 6,000 visors per hour! That’s the kind of scale our industry can bring to this crisis!
So, to review, 3-D printing can help in the short-term but good old-fashioned plastic injection molding will be the ultimate answer to the corona virus-related equipment shortage on an on-going basis. It’s a classic example of a new tech/old tech partnership.