Our National Stockpile Needs 3D Printers

by Avi Reichental

Much has been said, insinuated, exaggerated and accused about the Strategic National Stockpile over these past few turbulent months. Some of it is accurate and some of it is speculated. Many Americans had never even heard of the Strategic National Stockpile — our nation’s own repository of drugs, vaccines and critical medical supplies, safeguarded and on hand for a crisis exactly like the one we currently see playing out — until coronavirus made landfall here in February.

It’s full of all sorts of items: protective gear and chemical antidotes, IV tubes and agents that could counter radioactive exposure. But if there’s one thing that it doesn’t currently have, and should, it’s an abundance of 3D printers.

Here at XponentialWorks, we’ve been working around the clock to create just the basic personal protective gear — namely, protective face shields that are vital to the health and safety of our frontline healthcare workers. We’re also working on creating the availability of nasal test swabs. And why are we working so hard on this? The answer is simple: the national strategic stockpile and all existing supply chains are stressed to the max and many Americans don’t have the supplies they currently need to help them weather this crisis.

We’re doing what we can to help be a part of that solution. And 3D printing is particularly adept at creative, nimble solutions – complexity is free with 3D printing, so we can make anything required, and we can do it at the drop of the proverbial hat.

I recently gave an interview to Molly Wood at Marketplace Tech on this topic, discussing why 3D printing is so particularly useful at this moment, and what barriers and challenges we still should expect to face as we recover from this crisis and plan to be better prepared for the next one.

My primary point was that many people in the 3D printing industry are jumping in right now to do their part, but that can create problems as well as solutions. Some of them are using photo polymer materials that are regulated and approved, but we aren’t clear on who is converting those materials into parts. We don’t know if their facilities are regulated or covered under FDA emergency approvals and wavers. 3D printing offers an incredible opportunity at this time because within just 72 hours, anyone — highschoolers, makers, and professional companies — can shift into production. But without regulations and oversight, we can’t get a strong handle on the actual manufacturing capacity. Having 3D printers in our national stockpile, and a set of guides and regulations for using them, would help prevent this issue.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis in its scope and destruction, but it’s not the first crisis this country has seen, and it certainly will not be the last. 3D printing offers incredible opportunities because it allows us, with little overhead cost, in record time and with phenomenal flexibility, to create and manufacture desperately needed goods and materials in a time of need. But if we don’t properly certify and monitor that production, these efforts are unlikely to make a genuine dent. We can’t use materials that we can’t certify or trust. Regulations have their place and they must be followed. So in the next crisis, let’s make sure there are 3D printers on hand, and they are readily available. It’s a solution that will be easy to follow and will have countless long-term benefits for every citizen.

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