United states of manufacturing

Departments - Editor’s Letter

The rapidly spreading pandemic caught many government agencies, economists, and manufacturers by surprise, shredding rosy economic outlooks and forcing many businesses to radically restructure operations. However, manufacturing best practices embraced throughout the past 20 years have made industries more adaptable and flexible – better able to rapidly transition to vital medical components.

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Elizabeth Engler Modic, Editor

Amid a pandemic and worldwide protests about policing policies and racial inequalities, the first half of 2020 has been filled with events that aren’t unifying for any country. And, at a time when global cases of COVID-19 exceeded 8 million, and U.S. cases topped 2 million, people still remain split into two distinct groups – mask vs. non-mask wearers.

As much of the world hit pause in early March, it became obvious that the novel coronavirus had found worldwide governments unprepared to adequately respond. The U.S. response was invoking the Defense Production Act, giving the president authority to direct industry to produce critical equipment and supplies. While the act was established in 1950 during the Korean War to direct private industry to produce weapons, vehicles, and other material for war, through a 2009 Congressional amendment, the act now includes domestic preparedness and national emergency response efforts.

So, while much of manufacturing slowed to a crawl, the need to ramp up domestically produced medical equipment and supplies was apparent. To date, the federal government has committed $15.2 billion to roughly 4,000 companies to produce everything from hand sanitizer to personal protection equipment (PPE), ventilators, and testing kits.

Companies involved in textiles pivoted to making masks. Spirits producers turned from distilling whiskey to pumping out hand sanitizer. Auto manufacturing facilities turned from cars to ventilators. And, companies with additive manufacturing (AM) capabilities began producing assemblies for face shields and other needed medical equipment and devices.

The cover story in this month’s issue details how Xometry, using 3D printing and partnering with its network of nearly 4,000 manufacturers, worked with customers to quickly scale production of masks, face shields, ventilator parts, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to ventilator conversions, contactless temperature measurement devices, and powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) components. Xometry is also serving as extra capacity to large manufacturers working to meet demand, using 3D printing, injection molding, and sheet-metal fabrication to produce components. In one case, they helped scale ventilator airflow splitters production, creating hundreds per build by using HP Multi Jet Fusion additive manufacturing (AM).

As you read this issue, you’ll also learn about NRL & Associates – a company that hasn’t had a chance to catch its breath since early March – and how they got expedited delivery of a Fanuc RoboDrill so they could ramp-up production on ventilator component assemblies for a returning customer. And, as dental labs experienced drastic slowdowns as people weren’t allowed to visit dentists, our 3D/AM section looks at how Formlabs, USF Health, Tampa General Hospital, Norwell Health, and ROE Laboratories are 3D printing nasopharyngeal (NP) test swabs.

The rapidly spreading pandemic caught many government agencies, economists, and manufacturers by surprise, shredding rosy economic outlooks and forcing many businesses to radically restructure operations. However, manufacturing best practices embraced throughout the past 20 years have made industries more adaptable and flexible – better able to rapidly transition to vital medical components.

There’s one thing of which I’m certain, united manufacturers throughout the U.S. are doing all they can to overcome these unprecedented challenges.