CTO David Walker models a HARP-generated medical face shield, which Azul 3D will start to mass-produce to help with the COVID crisis (Photo: Business Wire)

The company aims to produce 20,000 shields per week

CHICAGO—In an effort to protect essential workers against COVID-19, Azul 3D is using its 3D printing technique, “high-area rapid printing” (HARP), to produce medical face shields for healthcare workers. The company expects to produce the face shields at a rate of 1,000 per day on its prototype printer, and will be running the printer 24/7, Azul 3D said in a release.

“Coronavirus is taking the lives of citizens and healthcare workers in the U.S. and countries around the globe, as hospitals face a shortage of healthcare equipment,” said David Walker, CTO and co-founder of Azul 3D, in a statement. “We have a technology that allows us to manufacture products quickly, especially in a time of crisis.”

Volunteer team members — designated as essential workers during the State of Illinois’s stay-at-home order — are working in six-hour shifts to keep the production cycle going continuously. The Azul 3D team is leading the face shield printing and has partnered with a local manufacturing company to provide the laser-cut clear plastic shields. A third partner is sanitizing and packaging the face shield components into easy-to-assemble kits, which will be supplied to area hospitals. All face shields can be washed and reused.

“By rapidly printing face shields and potentially other critical components, we’re ready to take on this fight to slow the impact of Coronavirus,” Walker said. “We have an opportunity to assist our healthcare workers as they face unprecedented challenges, by taking advantage of our great team and the technology we have developed.”

Azul 3D unveiled its HARP technique last fall, announcing a 13-foot-tall printer with a 2.5-square-foot print bed that is reported to print “about half a yard in an hour,” the company said. Now, in the face of a national crisis, the company has decided to speed up the production of its beta printers while also leveraging its prototype printer. For the short term, its goal is to print medical face shields at the rate of 20,000 shields per week within the next few months, the company said.

“Even fleets of 3D printers are having difficulty meeting demand for face shields because the need is so enormous,” said Chad Mirkin, chairman of the board. “But HARP is so fast and powerful that we can put a meaningful dent in that demand.”

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