Richland engineers use 3-D printing to make protective gear for hospitals

RICHLAND, Wash. – Since the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals have faced a shortage of medical equipment capable of protecting people from COVID-19.

In response, the U.S. Department of Energy asked 16 national laboratories to help manufacture and supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals nationwide.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland answered the call. The team of seven engineers use 3-D printers to make ventilator adaptors, masks and frames that can improve the efficiency of cloth masks.

Michelle Fenn, a mechanical engineer at PNNL, is part of that team.

“Now that we have finalized our designs, we have sent them on to other national labs that focus more on prototyping leading to mass production,” Fenn said, “The ventilator designs have been transferred to Idaho National Laboratory, which will move into the manufacturing phase. The designs would allow a company to make a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-compliant injection mold for producing these parts in large scale for distribution to hospitals. Ames Laboratory will develop and test the face frame design and may make it available for a manufacturing partner.”

With the design phase now complete, the masks and ventilator specifications have been made available for free as part of an initiative to accelerate technology development during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s really fulfilling to have your design go out into the world and make an impact,” Fenn added.