Creativity in time of crisis- Digital manufacturing solutions as a response to COVID-19

7 May 2020 - Bahar

Amidst the rise of the coronavirus pandemic which has led to the scarcity of healthcare resources and supplies, our very own Pallab Shrestha along with a bunch of innovators are seeking solutions at this time of adversity from their homes! This coronavirus pandemic and the global crisis have created havoc even among the richest of countries who far exceed Nepal in terms of quality healthcare services. This has led to a shortage of essential medical supplies and protection equipment in Nepal. Nepali innovators are however collaborating together to solve this issue. How? Staying home and using 3D digital manufacturing to design and build the current need for quality personal protection equipment (PPE)! Pallab Shrestha, Product innovator and FabLab lead at Nepal Communitere along with various active Nepali makers are racking their brains to design, create and build solutions to support the health care system of Nepal using 3D printers and digital manufacturing. 

Pallab has been working on several medical equipment designs like face shield frames, mask holders and door handles from open source platforms and is focusing on prototyping from home amidst the lockdown. In a country like Nepal where the health system can easily be overstretched and malfunction, if the number of infected people jumps up, there are many healthcare workers who are selflessly serving without enough protective gear and personal protective equipment. While the government is taking charge of the solutions, small efforts also count a lot to combat this emergency. The heavy reliability of imported supplies like ventilators, rapid diagnostic kits and even basic masks has triggered the vulnerability among people regarding the unseen future that might get worse if the COVID-19 pandemic gets out of control.

Globally, the maker community has been responding significantly against COVID-19 by designing, fabricating and distributing different products such as, but not limited to masks, mask holders, PPE, Faceshield, medical goggles, etc. Digital fabrication technology has been used to produce test nasal swabs such as by Formlabs in the U.S.  Innovators from the maker community in Nepal including Promech Minds, Zener Technologies, Nepal Innovation Center is also designing and fabricating PPE, face shields and testing booths to help health communities navigate through these challenges in response to COVID-19. Pallab has also been providing guidance and support to maker groups to fabricate parts for a low-cost ventilator. 

In addition to this, the Nepal Communitere team has been supporting the Careables platform to share the designs and how maker communities in different parts of the world have been responding to COVID-19.

“This is where technology meets humanism,” Pallab says, “3D printing is a more adaptable manufacturing method to bridge the supply chain gap and mitigate the risk. An easy example to understand: a 3D printed hands-free door handle can reduce the spread of the virus. Seeing this creativity sprouting all over, it indeed makes us realize that disasters can be a catalyst for innovation.”

3D printing and digital manufacturing can be a tool for innovation and used to create a minimum viable solution for this medical supply crisis. However, important aspects like risks associated with open innovations, verifications from respective authorities and implementation processes should be considered as high priority by the makers, as these products are directly associated with the health of the people. “I look forward to fostering the maker-culture in Nepal with support and engagement from government, universities as well as the private sector.”