A Brooklyn-based 3D printing lab that designs Covid-19 protective gear is increasingly fielding requests for custom-branded personal equipment as companies plan out scenarios for bringing their workforce back into an office in some capacity.
Christina Perla, co-founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based 3D printing service Makelab, said she has received “quite a few” orders for protective face shields bearing the logo of a particular company in the past week or so from businesses anticipating the limited reopening of workplaces.
Like many other 3D printing shops, Makelab has shifted its focus in recent months to help fill shortages in masks, face shields and other safety gear, partnering with a facial scanning company called Bellus3D on an app that will allow for custom-fitted masks. But as the traditional industry has begun to catch up to the sudden surge in demand for generic safety gear, the needs of her customers have been shifting to more niche, custom applications.
“There is a lot less demand for face shields than there was maybe three weeks ago,” Perla said. “But we’re starting to see a new demand pop up, which is pretty interesting. We’re getting a lot of requests from brands that are formulating their reopening plan for custom-branded face shields to replace the need for physical Plexi barriers.”
While Perla can’t name any of the clients at this time, some companies have already started to deploy branded PPE to essential workers in the field. Local news reporters at an ABC affiliate in Boston and a CBS affiliate in Providence, R.I., for instance, have been spotted in masks bearing the logo of their network. At least one Domino’s Pizza employee has posted on social media about a local franchise providing custom masks branded to match uniforms, and supermarket Publix has been selling branded masks in its company store.
Such use cases represent a more logistically sustainable application for 3D printing technology, which is better suited for creating a smaller number of quick turnaround, customized products than any type of mass production. While 3D printing had been put to use in factories elsewhere in Brooklyn and around the country to print tens of thousands of PPE items, their operators readily admitted that the effort was a stop-gap measure until conventional manufacturing industries could pivot to catch up.
“One thing that 3D printing is really good at is mass customization, especially for brands,” Perla said. “If you’re ordering quantities less than, like, 50,000, it’s more difficult to get something traditionally made or get a product branded and made in time. So I feel like, if anything, that’s where 3D printing really fits.”
Perla also hopes that the impact relief efforts like these will have on the popular perception of 3D printing will far outlast the pandemic.
“It’s been put in front of a lot of eyes and a lot of people, and I’m hoping that this inspires the use of 3D printing more as a big educating moment,” Perla said.