One of the most often-quoted statements during times of crisis is attributed to Mr. Rogers. It’s targeted toward children, but applies to all of us – it’s something he said his mother used to tell him during difficult, uncertain times. “Always look for the helpers — there’s always someone who is trying to help,” she told him. “I did,” he said, “and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.”
There’s no doubt that the current COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as one of the most uncertain and difficult times most of us have seen in our lifetimes. And there is no shortage of those wonderful doctors and nurses on the front lines right now, as well as other first responders, volunteers, neighbors and friends. But sometimes helpers come from the most unexpected sources. One of those is Czech Republic-based Y Soft, which is using its 3D print capabilities to create face shields for front-line workers in hospitals. We asked Václav Muchna, CEO and co-founder, and Marcel Fejtek, Chief Operating Officer of Y Soft, a few questions.
Where are the masks being distributed?
The majority of our 3D printers are located in the Czech Republic. There are many hospitals with a critical lack of these kinds of supplies. However, we are working with a government-provided list of hospitals that are in need. Right now we are working with Bohnice Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Prague, and Thomayer Hospital in Prague, which is one of the largest medical facilities in the Czech Republic.
What type of shields are you making, and how many?
These are the plastic face shields you might have seen on some news channels. A piece of plastic is shaped to cover the face and a 3D printed “frame” is used to connect the plastic shield with a simple rubber strap to affix it to a person’s head. The hospitals actually prefer that the plastic is not inserted into the frame for a couple of reasons: it is easier to ship and store, they can insert the plastic piece into the headband themselves and it is one less step that could lead to contamination.
We are at the point where we will be making nearly 500 shields a day. It’s a simple thing we can do to help. (Editor’s note: Since this interview, production has been ramped up to 1,200!)
The design of the frame itself is from another 3D printer manufacturer and has evolved over time based on feedback. We already have feedback on how the hospitals want them delivered and how they are working out so we can improve the design; we are already working on version 3.0. So now we focus on optimizing production so we can produce them even faster.
Do these take the place of N95 masks we keep hearing about?
N95 are face masks, which cannot be 3D printed. But our employees have come together to provide material and sewing to make them for the staff that do have to come to the office (for shipping products) and for donation.
Face shields are used by medical staff when a face mask is not available. Think about medical staff in laboratories and other areas of a medical facility that is not dealing with COVID patients. They can use these shields instead.
Are they meant to be sterilizable/reusable?
Yes! The entire face mask can be sterilized and reused many times.
Could this be a new line of business in the future?
I think we have seen how the world has been unprepared for such a situation. Our manufacturing is not outfitted for ongoing mass production. However, we have all learned how a little bit from everyone can help. I don’t see it as a business for us but we can certainly continue to produce to help the global supply. Even employees in our other offices around the world that have one or two 3D printers want to help.
I’m extremely proud of how Y Softers have come together to do this kind of work without prompting from anyone. We are all in this together.
We’re happy to say there are many companies and individuals in the industry who are lending a hand and doing their best to make a difference in these difficult times. We’ll be highlighting them right here – keep an eye out!