Can we 3D print a better face mask?

How 3D printing can help mitigate PPE supply shortages in future pandemics.

Some of the most indelible images of the early pandemic were of the personal protective equipment (PPE) crisis in our hospitals — photos of doctors and nurses wearing repurposed garbage bags, swim goggles, and snorkeling masks as the supply of PPE dwindled in the face of Covid-19’s assault.

Two health care workers in full PPE — body suit, face mask, and goggles — stand back to back, in front of a stylized image of face masks.

Those images underscored just how unprepared we were to deal with a fast-moving pandemic. US hospitals relied heavily on overseas suppliers, especially in China, for PPE, and there are no regulations requiring hospitals or states to keep a certain level of stock in case of a crisis. Most didn’t; US health care operates under tight financial pressures, and just-in-time sourcing is — in normal times — more cost-effective. The result was a supply crunch that hampered our response against the pandemic.

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