Three federal agencies have teamed up to collectively leverage and accelerate 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing technologies in the fight against COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Veterans Affairs Department (VA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalize a unified effort through which they’ll solicit designs for, produce, and test 3D-printed personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to support America’s response to the worldwide health emergency.
Federal agencies have been harnessing 3D printing to serve their missions in a variety of efforts for the last few years. But the global spread of the novel coronavirus ushered in new equipment shortages and growing strains on America’s medical supply chain—and subsequently introduced a fresh use for 3D printing, which can rapidly accelerate the speed between the first concept of a product and the time it takes to produce it. FDA, NIH and VA already possess the resources necessary to quickly test and share 3D-printed designs of face masks, shields and other supplies that medical personnel now need, so they likely came together to help accelerate that delivery.
The MOU begins with NIH’s 3D Print Exchange, which is an existing tool used to share and find models that are clinically relevant and readily compatible with 3D printers. People with 3D designs of materials relevant to COVID-19 that they aim to share can submit them to NIH online. Then VA evaluates and tests the submitted designs.
As part of its duties highlighted in the memorandum, VA, through its Innovation Ecosystem, also swiftly launched an external website that interested individuals and health care entities can access to submit designs, find solutions, or support the testing involved. When VA finds a design to be safe and effective, FDA then participates in the review process, provides guidance, and ultimately makes the final designs easily accessible online.
Finally, the nonprofit accelerator America Makes acts as a streamlined, solitary voice connecting manufacturers with significant 3D-printing capabilities to health care facilities with urgent needs for the supplies approved in the agencies’ process.
The partnership came together fast, moving from the original collaboration concept to actual existence in less than a week. And it’s already producing results.
"In just six days, VA tested two face shields and designed and tested one face mask,” Beth Ripley, chair of the Veteran’s Health Administration's 3D Printing Advisory Committee and enterprise lead of VHA’s 3D Printing Network, told Nextgov. She now also serves as VA’s representative for the new MOU-driven effort. “We have already made significant progress in a short time."