Many efforts worked during COVID. Others failed. Here’s what we learned.

By Avi Reichental

We are still amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and while we pause to catch our breath until the next lockdowns, it’s an ideal time to examine the lessons that have been learned in the additive manufacturing community, because there have been some staggeringly creative solutions from our community created over the past few months, and with those solutions there were also some failures.

Here at Nexa3D, we’ve been taking advantage of this break to do a post-mortem on how we reacted, both as a company and as a key player within the industry. One lesson that has been undeniably learned is rooted in the immense power of crowd-sourced design: from homemade cloth masks distributed via online crafting sites to innovative solutions for social distancing, some of the most effective, cost-effective and elegant quick fixes to the staggering challenges created by this pandemic came as a result of decentralized, designers with high creativity and a desire to jump in and help.

But while there are many heartwarming stories of community mobilization and the neighborly lending of hands, there have also been some hard lessons learned about the need for regulation and oversight, even in an industry like ours which is powered so strongly by the free exchange of ideas.

While all of us in the industry may have the instinct to jump in and immediately start printing solutions in a crisis, much like firefighters may have the instinct to run toward a building when they see it on fire, we all need to stop, pause and think about strategy before plowing forward. I recently held a webinar with my colleagues Lauralyn McDaniel at American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Dr. Brandon Ribic, who is the technology director at America Makes, to discuss exactly this. Lauralyn summed it up nicely: “This crisis is an opportunity for those of us who aren’t in the medical field to really understand what it means and what it takes to do this,” she said. Daniel added: “If you imagine the early phases back in April, there was a lot of opportunity there for additive manufacturing because of the gaps that existed in the preexisting and legacy supply chains.”

They’re both right. These are three of the most important lessons we’ve learned so far from COVID-19.

  1. Boundless creative generosity is not always compatible with the corporate world. Despite our desire within the additive manufacturing industry to always jump in and help, we should also be sure to investigate permissions before sharing information.
  2. The next lesson applies to the issue of PPE — personal protective equipment. In the initial crush of the pandemic, the stories of doctors and nurses scrambling desperately for proper PPE were everywhere. Moms and grandmas across the globe pulled out their sewing machines to make homemade masks. Baseball teams sent ponchos to be worn as a barrier over scrubs. Moving too fast can sometimes hold you back twice as long. Before we jump to offer solutions, solve problems and call in our most heroic efforts, it’s good to make sure we first understand all the facts — and required steps — on the ground.
  3. Finally, the National Strategic Stockpile needs a makeover to bring it up to the modern current age. Coronavirus has shown us that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to national crises, so the materials and capabilities of the stockpile should be diverse and offer a variety of applications. If we had been able to tap a stockpile to create the valves, PPE and other gear we needed back in March, we may have never needed to learn lessons 1 and 2 — because they would have been solved for themselves.
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