Elite manufacturing teams quickly adapt to change, establishing clear process steps to efficiently develop medical devices and quickly ramp up production. So, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak spread, creating a need for critical medical devices and personal protective equipment (PPE), Xometry engineers knew they needed to put their agile network model to work.
Using 3D printing and partnering with their network of nearly 4,000 manufacturers, the company 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. Larger companies are relying on Xometry’s production capacity to meet demand, and smaller companies have come to the company for parts they typically don’t manufacture. In each instance, Xometry has learned the job and they’ve been able to respond.
Greg Paulsen, director of application engineering at Xometry, reflects on this business model to demonstrate the robustness of the industry and his company’s capabilities.
“We have a very wide variety that makes us almost technology agnostic,” Paulsen says. “It really helps us focus on the problem-solving aspect for a customer who needs parts done a certain way. We have technologies available that can meet their time, scope, and cost. Because we’re distributed, we have this very elastic kind of self-healing supply chain.”
Given the immediate need for PPE, Xometry wanted to work on a scalable product they could create quickly and at low cost. For a few months, the company has been partnering with volunteer group MASKproject to manufacture an origami face shield – a piece of PPE that the wearer can quickly assemble by folding and combining a plastic shield with a strap. The origami face shield design was an outcome of the crowdsourced group Helpful Engineering, focused on COVID-19 emergency medical needs.
Die-cut clear plastic is easy to assemble in the field and can be produced quickly, enabling Xometry to create 10,000 units each day.
The clear, anti-fog plastic, full-face shield comes in two pieces – a shield and strap. It takes about 1 minute to assemble, requiring the shield to be folded and combined with the strap component. The shield protects the wearer’s face from hazards including large, potentially virus-laden droplets expelled when patients talk or cough.
“If or when situations come up, or if there’s a substantial need, we can turn this into a much more streamlined process,” Paulsen explains. “If we’re able to consolidate and make 10,000 [units] of a design that works well for that, then we could share those economies of scale. So that idea of a virtual responsive inventory is very interesting to help future-proof or speed up responsiveness.”
The work was highly scalable, and as a result, Xometry saw it propel as a percentage of their active network and active jobs. There was more molding work and die-cutting, and these scalable items are pushing demand for higher quantities and shorter lead times.
“That ability for us to scale based on what they need when they need it and how they need it is just so important,” Paulsen adds. “With that elastic capacity, we can stretch when we need to stretch and compress back when they need to go back.”
For other larger manufacturers working to meet demand, Xometry serves as extra capacity. They have used 3D printing, injection molding, and sheet-metal fabrication to produce components. Equipment components the company helped scale were ventilator airflow splitters. They were able to create hundreds per build by using HP Multi Jet Fusion additive manufacturing (AM).
They also worked on adapters and developed them to convert a CPAP machine to work like a ventilator. Other ventilator components were developed as well.
For these products, they took open-source CAD files and scaled to mass-production quantities very quickly.
“We are the parts manufacturer for those making the components for the ventilators,” Paulsen explains. “There are a lot of physical, mechanical components that are going into these devices. They’re using us because we are still open, and we have the supply chain that allows us to hit very short lead times.”
Thermal imaging device
X.Labs, a startup R&D firm specializing in advanced sensing and warning technology, turned to Xometry to fabricate housings and mounts for their contactless heat-detection product, Feevr. The thermal imaging device identifies individuals with elevated temperatures by using a software-enabled camera to look at thermal readings and highlight if the individual is above peak temperature. Using selective laser sintering (SLS), Xometry manufactured various housings and mounts for the device. The process used Nylon 12 and HP Multi Jet Fusion with TPU 95A material, as well as injection molding and compression molding to meet design requirements. Engineers were able to develop the product and make it available in a matter of weeks.
Xometry was able to create a stopgap solution with AM to get their first articles out. While the first 100 units were made using 3D printing technology, Xometry engineers, in parallel, were producing hard tooling for injection- and compression-molding to create a housing for their battery case. They also developed a rubbery housing for X.Labs’ thermal camera. Xometry was able to create the packaging for them quickly, and with that hard tooling, they’ve been able to scale up output significantly to hit immediate needs.
“This has been a true stress test,” Paulsen adds. “We have different supply chains all across the U.S. shutting down and others altering production. It’s been a positive observation to see how Xometry is working with small business machine shops and keeping them resilient.”
Paulsen says Xometry has learned many lessons from the crisis response, and hopes to apply those learnings to be more observant of changes once the industry is back to normal. If a similar situation comes up again, the company will be ready with a more streamlined process in place for customers to connect directly with those who can do finishing jobs in-house and services are in place to help machinists.
“I think this whole idea of a virtual responsive inventory is very interesting,” Paulsen concludes. “It would be a way to help future-proof or speed up the rate of responsiveness for future events. If we’re able to consolidate to make 10,000 products and have a design that works well for that, then we could share that economy of scale.”
About the author: Michelle Jacobson is the assistant editor of TMD. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.393.0323