Skokie company puts 3D tech into high gear to make COVID-19 masks
A Skokie-based 3-D printing company is turning up its newest technology to help meet the demand for personal protection equipment for health care workers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Azul 3-D has started using its High-Area Rapid Printer to produce medical face shields at a rate of 1,000 per day, according to company co-founder and Chief Technical Officer David Walker.
"Our technology is like nothing else in the marketplace and we're committed to using it for this essential cause," Walker said. "By rapidly printing face shields and potentially other critical components, we're ready to take on this fight to slow the impact of coronavirus."
Azul, a tech startup developed at Northwestern University, unveiled the HARP 3-D printing device last fall. The 13-foot-tall printer with a 2½-square-foot print bed can print a record half yard in an hour, according to the company. But with the demand for face shields becoming so great, company officials decided to speed up development of new printers while using its prototype printer to produce face shields in the short term. Officials said they expect to reach 20,000 shields per week within the next few months.
To meet its immediate goal of 1,000 per day on the original printer, Azul 3-D is running the printer 24/7. Volunteer team members work in six-hour shifts to keep the production cycle going
Azul 3-D has partnered with a local manufacturing company to provide the laser-cut clear plastic shields, while another partner sanitizes and packages face shield components into kits that will be supplied to area hospitals.
All face shields can be washed and reused.
"Even fleets of 3-D printers are having difficulty meeting demand for face shields because the need is so enormous," said Azul 3-D Board Chairman Chad Mirkin. "But HARP is so fast and powerful that we can put a meaningful dent in that demand."
Walker added, "We have an opportunity to assist our health care workers as they face unprecedented challenges by taking advantage of our great team and the technology we have developed."