Two recent projects with life-saving demand have demonstrated the benefits of digital manufacturing, and its ability to turn incredible ideas into real-world products—not only at the necessary scale, but in the necessary timeframe.
The first project: a facemask designed by Zverse. Both of these projects relied on CNC (computer numerical control) machining, injection molding, and 3D printing—where automation extends beyond the shop floor. Once an order was received, the software, by Protolabs, was able to automate much of the manual engineering and skilled labor that’s normally required. As a result, in many cases, they were able to quote orders in minutes and ship parts quickly, sometimes same-day.
Whether the parts for these projects are CNC machined, injection molded, or 3D printed, the process starts the same way: a 3D CAD file is submitted via the company’s website. Within minutes, the software can assess the order’s manufacturability and return a quote, along with suggested modifications.
Traditionally, making facemask designs and then implementing them would first require the production of a tool. Then a lot of back-and-forth among all parties would follow to finalize designs and terms. With the automation software, however, molding masks for Zverse could start within 48 hours of receiving a CAD file. This sophisticated automation has made it possible for Zverse to increase production enough to produce 20 million face shields by July.
University of Minnesota Ventilators
The second project is in the same COVID-19 vein: a ventilator designed by a research team at the University of Minnesota. Their design made these ventilators easy to use, and easy to manufacture. They were designed as “backups” or tools hospitals could build on their own when more sophisticated equipment wasn’t available. The automation software they used was able to finalize a prototype from a set of standards and easily fabricated components.
Without automation, the crucial demand of these medical supplies would have been completely unmet, and more people would have suffered because of it. When people come together, and utilize the technology we have, amazing things can happen.