12 April 2020

While we've been confined for a while in our homes, health workers, pharmacists, but also general store employees and transporters have been working hard in France to keep the country runnning. The penury of masks and protective equipment has been terrible, and people couldn't wait for standard supplies to arrive. Makers all around the world have thus been printing face shields, sewing makeshift masks and even gowns out of household materials such as garbage bags, to equip people with no other choice but to expose themselves to the risk of contamination.

I believe that makers like me sometimes feel like whatever they're doing with their 3D printers end up being mostly gadgets, toys for the nephews, and mods on their own printers... This time though, makers have proven that through a bit of organization and rigor, they could have a substantial impact, and somehow even saving lives maybe. Initiatives showed up all around the world, including in France, with websites such as covid3D created by the french youtuber Heliox, helping isolated makers in their garages to connect with the huge demands for face shields and respirators.
In my case, I started with asking around in my neighborhood for needs, and supplied about a hundred face shields to liberal nurses, pharmacists, but also butchers, bakers and shop owners.
I quickly ran out of filament though, and spent quite a lot of money in buying transparent sheets of polycarbonate for the produciton of those shields. Shortly after, I joined the "Ecole Centrale" in Lille, which had a riot channel, through which a truly well organized workforce was coordinated, to supply isolated makers with filament, centralize their individual productions, assemble the face shields, manage demands and deliveries. This great organization allowed me to deliver more than 600 face shields, without spending a single cent on raw materials, everything being covered by the Ecole Centrale (Huge thanks by the way!).

This was a great experience for me (all things aside...), as I had to optimize my production process: the printer almost ran 24/7, printing headbands in batches to save time and manual interventions. I also fixed my printer which had a lot of issues caused by transport since the move to Lille. I also learned to use onShape, a web-based CAD software, to improve the quality and yield of my 3D printer.

It was also the occasion to fix the old soviet sewing machine that I got from my girlfriend's father (who is a tailor). The leather belt drive needed to be restored and was completely loosen by time. also the motor mount was broken, so I 3D printed a new mount for it. In the end though, sewing masks was way too time consuming, since I was still working full time during the confinement, and I only produced about a dozen of them.

I want to particularily thank my boss, Christian Duriez, who has allowed me to spend a lot of my time on the production of face shields, even during my work hours, and once again the Ecole Centrale of Lille which has been providing makers with everything they needed to keep the production going!