Breathing masks from the 3D printer – companies are converting their production

Dusseldorf They are usually easy to manufacture, the cost of materials is low – and yet it is currently impossible for many hospitals and medical practices to get them: face shields and face masks have developed into permanently sold-out box office hits worldwide during the corona crisis.

The World Health Organization warned in February of the imminent shortage of medical protective equipment. The warning has become a reality in recent weeks. More and more companies now want to help alleviate the scarcity and switch their production to scarce medical goods.

3D printers play a crucial role across all industries. Because with the devices, customized products can be easily and inexpensively manufactured without modifications. That is why they are used by steel manufacturers like Thyssen-Krupp and Georgsmarienhütte, but also from car manufacturers such as VW or dental laboratories and design offices used for a wide variety of applications – and increasingly converted into emergency production facilities during the crisis.

“Many users are very creative with additive manufacturing at the moment,” observes Stefan Hollaender, Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at the US printer manufacturer Formlabs. His company has launched an initiative to deal with the corona crisis, which now includes 5000 devices from Formlabs customers from various industries.

“There are inquiries from companies that want to provide their freed-up printing capacities – and inquiries from hospitals and medical facilities that quickly need certain products for which the traditional manufacturing capacities are currently exhausted,” Hollaender explains the principle. Additive manufacturing shows its greatest strength during the corona crisis: flexibility.

Masks are printed based on a template

Because it only takes a digital model to produce a part with a 3D printer, industrial groups can change from a material manufacturer to a manufacturer of facial sights within minutes. For example, the steel cooker Georgsmarienhütte: On its own initiative, the company already started a few days ago to manufacture mounts for facial visors on 3D printers, which are usually used for mold making in the foundry industry.

“In the current situation, however, the printers are underutilized,” the company said on request. Last week, the Georgsmarienhütte delivered the first 50 visors to two care facilities in the region.

The design is kept as simple as possible: A plastic frame is printed based on a template that can be found hundreds of times on the Internet. The construction looks like a headband to which a plastic film can be attached like a document cover. This is intended to protect the face of the caregiver from flying viruses and thus reduce the risk of infection.

The steel manufacturer Thyssen-Krupp also produces similar visors. The Chemnitz site, which belongs to the automotive supply division of the Ruhr group, has developed its own design that also contains the Thyssen-Krupp logo. In Chemnitz, the group can print seven brackets a day, and another 40 a week are produced on the company’s 3D printers in Hagen.

Creative misuse

While the use in this country is usually limited to simple, medically harmless protective equipment, other manufacturers in other European countries are breaking new ground. When urgently needed ventilator spare parts ran out in an Italian hospital in the particularly affected Lombardy a few weeks ago, a local 3D printing company called Isinnova stepped in – and simply printed the spare parts on their own devices within a few hours.

In collaboration with another facility, the same company also developed a device that can be used to convert diving masks into emergency respirators in a few seconds, which is also used in Italy. The sporting goods retailer Decathlon took part in the development – and provided design plans and dimensions of its diving masks for misuse.

“With many products, such as diving masks, there is the possibility of using them with minor changes for other purposes – such as masks for ventilators,” observes Stefan Hollaender from Formlabs. On a special Homepage the company provides many 3D plans. If you want to help, you just have to download it – and you are immediately available as a supplier of protective equipment.

Even though hardly any company is currently thinking of investing in a new printer, Hollaender expects that the crisis will have a positive long-term effect on 3D printing. “The pioneering spirit is currently very big,” says the manager. That will change the way companies think in the long term.

In addition, “Companies are thinking about how they can make their supply chains more resilient.” Because of their flexible application options, additive manufacturing is a means of choice for many companies if suppliers should fail. “I am currently experiencing this frequently in discussions with customers – even if investments in many industries are currently being postponed due to the pandemic.”

More: The South Hessian automotive supplier Sauer has also changed its production – and is now producing protective glasses instead of plastic parts for luxury cars using 3D printing.

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Safety glasses instead of champagne wearers – Sauer changes over

Management of the Dieburger company Sauer

Martin Sauer (right) and Johann Georg von Hülsen changed the production at the car supplier Sauer to protective glasses at short notice.

(Photo: Sauer Product GmbH)

Frankfurt Usually it is plastic parts with a noble design that Martin Sauer proudly presents. For example, the champagne holder for one Rolls-Royce. The entrepreneur runs the Sauer company from Dieburg in southern Hesse, which his great-grandfather once founded: a specialist in plastic injection molding. With 180 employees and an annual turnover of around 25 million euros, the company mainly works for premium manufacturers in the automotive industry. The company also supplies medical technology and industrial companies.

But in times of Corona and a low car production, creativity is required. They have proven Sauer and his team. In just two weeks they developed safety glasses with the “Wesion 20” and brought them to industrial production. ,

But Sauer had a decisive advantage here. The company specializes in small series. “The short-term response to new customer requirements is basically nothing new for us,” explains the 36-year-old CEO. In addition: “We are a hybrid company that offers everything from services such as the creation of initial sketches to development and industrial production.” One could have brought the glasses to industrial series production in just a few weeks because you could have all the know-how in the company – from the idea to the necessary work equipment.

In addition, Dieburg has been dealing with the question of how to become even more independent of the car industry for some time. “We had already dealt with the question of which products might be attractive to us in addition to the topic of cars in the past two years,” says Johann Georg von Hülsen (46), co-managing director at Sauer Product and partner of management consultancy Haselhorst Associates worked on the strategic direction of the company. It also identified suitable components that could be developed and produced using the technical possibilities. The subject of eye protection was one of them.

Suppliers from the region

The glasses themselves are very simple. It is made entirely of polycarbonate. “So we don’t need a complex supply chain,” explains Sauer. And the few suppliers you need come from the region. Sauer has not outsourced so much from the value chain in the past.

The flow of goods at Sauer, like at all automotive suppliers, is partly global. “However, we also work very closely with regional suppliers and partners,” says Sauer. In projects like safety glasses in particular, this makes it possible to shorten the processes extremely.

Sauer is not the only supplier to have adjusted its production due to the corona crisis. The tuning company Zender in Osnabrück has recently been producing medical protective masks. Zettl from Bavaria, actually a manufacturer of seat covers for vehicles, has also switched to protective masks.

Even big companies like BMW are currently supplementing their production with products such as respiratory protection masks. But VDA President Hildegard Müller recently warned of excessive expectations. Such products would have to meet the requirements and processes of medical technology, that had to be checked carefully.

Sauer now wants to build and deliver many thousands of glasses a day. The demand is great, for example from public bodies such as social services or aid organizations. By the way: Sauer also relied on its own expertise when it came to selling the latest product. The contacts were addressed and asked who could use such protection. The rest came of itself.

More: How long do the belts stand still? The supplier industry cannot afford a false start

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This is how wiper motors help against the virus

The group uses production capacities that cannot be used for vehicle production due to the general production stop. The network of in-house 3D printers, with which components for medical devices can be manufactured, also plays an important role.

The most technically demanding is a complete device production at the Spanish Volkswagen subsidiary Seat. Completed ventilators have been installed at the Martorell plant near Barcelona for a few days now. For this purpose, 150 employees from different company departments have relocated their workplaces and are building the vital ventilation aids on the Leon assembly line.

“Retrofitting an assembly line that actually produces vehicle parts so that ventilation aids can be manufactured was a difficult task. But we did it in record time, ”said Sergio Arreciado from Seat’s process engineering department.

The Spanish Volkswagen subsidiary is now waiting for the new devices to receive medical approval. Production has already started because Seat expects approval from the authorities in a short time. The construction of the production had already been accompanied by medical experts.

After Italy, Spain is the country most affected by the Corona epidemic in Europe. In overcrowded hospitals, the need for ventilators is great.

The new Seat ventilator consists of more than 80 electronic and mechanical components. This includes gears from the 3D printer and gear shafts. The heart of the device is a converted windscreen wiper motor that provides the drive. The quality control of the finished device at the end of production also includes sterilization with UV light.

Lamborghini produces 200 face shields every day

The medical auxiliary products that are manufactured at the Italian VW subsidiary Lamborghini are technically less complex. The sports car manufacturer’s factory near Bologna produces 1,000 protective masks every day. Lamborghini upholstery, which is normally responsible for the interior of expensive sports cars, is responsible for the production.

Lamborghini also produces 200 face shields made of clear polycarbonate every day. The Italian VW subsidiary uses its own 3D printer from the research and development department for this. Lamborghini’s medical products go to clinics in the Bologna region.

“In this emergency situation we want to make a concrete contribution,” said Lamborghini boss Stefan Domenicali. His company wants to support those “who fight the pandemic on the front line every day.”

The Czech Volkswagen subsidiary Skoda is also well advanced in the manufacture of medical products. The company from Mlada Boleslav north of Prague decided to manufacture medical protective masks.

In order to contain the corona pandemic efficiently, wearing such special protective masks is essential, especially for doctors and nursing staff. The Skoda Development Center, where other prototypes and models of future vehicle generations will be worked on, has developed a 3D printing process for this purpose together with an institute from the Technical University of Prague to manufacture breathing masks of the highest protection class “FFP3”. The protective masks are reusable thanks to an exchangeable filter, Skoda said.

Production has already started a few days after the certification. The finished masks are delivered to the Czech Ministry of Health, which distributes them to hospitals and doctors.

Skoda currently produces around 60 units a day. The project is also supported by other Czech universities and private companies that have similar printers. As a result, the total production volume is several hundred pieces a day.

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At the Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg, the company announced at the end of March that 3D printers should also be used for the production of medical components. At VW, the focus is on the plastics technology area. Volkswagen had announced possible parts that could be manufactured there, such as hoses or face masks.

“We cannot print complete ventilators,” said the company spokesman. Volkswagen is preparing for the relief effort. Employees are already busy testing materials for use in a larger production. In addition, the automaker is checking procurement channels for the required material.

Volkswagen has also provided its own hotel in Wolfsburg, which is now to be used as an emergency hospital for people with corona. The replacement clinic in the “Global Inn” hotel has 210 beds.

More: Short-time work in the car country: Daimler, Opel and VW send tens of thousands on forced leave.

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Xerox withdraws billion dollar offer for HP

HP headquarters

The hostile takeover of the computer manufacturer was canceled.

(Photo: AFP)

San Francisco The US printer manufacturer Xerox In the middle of the corona virus pandemic, the planned hostile takeover of the computer company HP stops. Xerox described Tuesday night’s move as disappointing, but necessary to focus on addressing the current crisis.

Xerox had $ 35 billion for the much larger one HP offered, which makes about six times as much annual turnover. The group should have largely financed the acquisition through new debt.

Not only the financial uncertainty caused by Corona seems to have made the deal impossible, but also the impact of the pandemic on the business of both companies: Xerox mainly sells large printers that are used in offices and are currently hardly used and least of all are bought. HP, on the other hand, benefits more from the trend towards home office.

The Silicon Valley pioneer makes two thirds of its sales with home computers, and its printers are also aimed at private individuals. In the crisis, Xerox’s business is under more pressure than HP’s.

The value of Xerox stock has halved in the past five weeks, while HP’s share certificates have fallen by around a quarter, about the same as the overall market.
Both papers suffered from the end of the takeover fantasy: Xerox shares fell by more than two percent in morning trading in New York, and HP shares fell by more than nine percent.

Icahn is already moving on

The streak puller behind the deal was the activist investor Carl Icahn, who at least temporarily held larger shares in both companies. Icahn already seems to have shifted his focus: In an interview with CNBC, the billionaire said recently that the shares of some corporations are now being “given away”. He had long considered the stock market overvalued, but now there are stocks of some solid companies to buy cheap.

The withdrawal is considered a victory for HP boss Enrique Lores, who had rejected the takeover offer published for the first time in November as too low. In February, Xerox increased its offer again, whereupon Lores showed unwillingness to talk.

Now the Spaniard, who has only been leading HP since November, is confident that HP can survive the crisis on his own: “We have a healthy cash position and a balance sheet that enables us to tackle unexpected challenges like a pandemic while at the same time being strategic To keep options open for the future. ”

HP has invested heavily in the development of industrial 3D printers in recent years. These were used in the times of Corona in the production of face or respiratory masks.

More: Follow the current developments in the corona crisis in our news blog.

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