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AM in the time of COVID-19Case Studies

Seattle hospital bus drivers receive 3D printed protection for COVID-19

Over the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has made some things absolutely clear. Among them is the importance of essential service jobs like medical staff, grocery store employees, delivery people and transit workers. While many people have had the opportunity to work from home in this challenging time, people in these positions have really kept society afloat, and that has come with a personal health risk. Recognizing this risk, a team from Seattle Children’s decided that its shuttle bus drivers needed to be protected from the virus. A unique solution, consisting of a bespoke protective door, was developed by GoProto and Function Foundry with the help of 3D printing.

The well-respected Seattle Children’s is located near Kirkland, Washington, where one of the earliest outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred. Though challenging, this meant that the hospital was preparing from the outset to contain a potential outbreak and protect its staff. The hospital’s shuttle bus service, which transports staff, was quickly identified as a high risk area, so the hospital’s Innovation Pod therefore got to work to devise a solution.

Working in collaboration with custom manufacturing services provider GoProto and industrial design and fabrication company Function Foundry, the hospital team designed a protective and transparent enclosure for the shuttle bus drivers. 3D printing enabled the joint team to not only overcome supply chain problems but to deliver the vital equipment in a time and cost efficient manner.

The solution itself required the development of custom fittings for the shuttle bus to hold the plastic screen in place. And though the required parts could have mostly been sourced off-the-shelf, there was a high demand for clamps, fasteners and vibration abatement material, so 3D printing turned out to be the best way forward. In designing the protective screen there were a few considerations: it needed to perfectly fit the contours of the bus, it needed to withstand the vibrations and movements of the shuttle, and it should fit the bus’ interior design from an aesthetic perspective.

Seattle Children's Hospital bus

“This pandemic has created a bit of a traffic jam where everyone is doing custom applications, and they are turning to the same vendors for parts and materials,” explained Drew Fletcher, owner of Function Foundry. “So, ordering specialty off-the-shelf hardware could have required a longer lead-time than simply 3D printing the exact parts we’d need.”

The parts were designed by Function Foundry and 3D printed by GoProto using HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology. According to the partners, the entire process from design to finished prototype took only ten days, which meant that the protective shuttle screen was installed and tested in record time. Each 3D printed part was custom designed to address the mechanical challenges of the bus, including vibrations, interior contours and differential surfaces.

In this case and others, 3D printing has proven itself to be suitable for designing and implementing innovative solutions on the fly. By using the technology, people around the world have come up with truly inspiring solutions to help fight COVID-19 and protect people from the virus. The use of the technology to produce customized bracketing for securing a plexiglass barrier could, of course, be applied in many settings: from buses, to shops and restaurants, and even offices.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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