How this Mumbai-based startup is making 3D printed face shields for doctors

Anuj Bhatia
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The 3D printing company is providing support to medical professionals by printing face sheilds. (Image credit: Parth Panchal/ Boson Machines)

It’s been busy days for Parth Panchal and Arjun Panchal, co-founders of Boson Machines, a Mumbai-based startup that has been printing 3D face shields for doctors and health workers. The company got into 3D printing of face shields five days back after it was approached by Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital.

“We went to the hospital for three days, worked on three to four iterations of the design and sat with a panel of five to eight doctors to finalise the design of face shields as recommended by them. Once that was done, we started production of 20 to 30 3D printed face shields,” said Parth, the 26-year-old who started the 3D printing firm in 2017.

Unlike N95 masks, which only cover your nose and mouth, face shields are attached to the wearer's head and have a transparent PVC film that covers most of the user’s face and even ears. “These are recommended for doctors as they protect them from the risk of being exposed to a sneeze, cough or any type of spatter on the facial region,” he says. However, Panchal also adds that these shields are not a replacement for regular masks recommended by doctors but act as an extra layer.

Face shields are attached to the wearer's head and have a transparent PVC film that covers most of the user’s face and even ears. (Image credit: Parth Panchal/ Boson Machines)

The 3D face shields are now being used only for one patient after which the doctors discard them though the front visor can also be sterilised using autoclaving. Also, though the shields are widely used across the world, it is not clear how effective they are in the end.

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The frame is made out from PLA (polylactic acid), one of the most popularly available raw materials for 3D printing, which cannot be sterilised like the visor. But Panchal says the company can sterilise the frame by using 70 per cent rubbing alcohol, soaking them in a 30 per cent KOH solution followed by a round in ethylene oxide (EO) gas oven designed specifically for sterilising plastic medical equipment.

3D face shields, coronavirus 3D printed face shields, 3d printed face masks, Boson Machines, 3D face shields for doctors India

Each sheild takes about 90 minutes to print and costs between Rs 150 and Rs 200 depending on the design. (Image credit: Parth Panchal/ Boson Machines)

The Panchals and their team are working round the clock to meet the demand for 3D printed face shields, which are being made at a factory in Goregaon, Mumbai. Boson Machines is currently producing 500 to 800 3D printed face shields per day, and now the company aims to manufacture anywhere between 5000 and 8000 units per day to meet the growing demand.

With orders coming in on WhatsApp and social media channels, Parth says the company has deployed all 40 of its 3D printers. Now, the team is coordinating with colleges across the city which have 3D printers and can lend support to the company.

3D face shields, coronavirus 3D printed face shields, 3d printed face masks, Boson Machines, 3D face shields for doctors India

The frame is made out from PLA (polylactic acid). (Image credit: Parth Panchal/ Boson Machines)

Parth says the advantage of 3D printing is that one person can handle 20 machines at the same time and each machine can print a product overnight without monitoring. Each sheild takes about 90 minutes to print and costs between Rs 150 and Rs 200 depending on the design -- there are variations, including one that is enclosed from the top.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across India, health agencies and hospitals are facing acute shortages of N95 masks. This is why, Parth says, a lot of big and small hospitals, testing labs and government agencies have shown interest in 3D printed face shields, including KEM Hospital and Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai, Mumbai Police Force, the Customs Department and multiple hospitals from Jaipur, Bihar, Bangalore, and Pune, among others.

3D face shields, coronavirus 3D printed face shields, 3d printed face masks, Boson Machines, 3D face shields for doctors India

Boson Machines is currently producing 500 to 800 3D printed face shields per day, (Image credit: Parth Panchal/ Boson Machines)

Boson Machines, which manufactures 3D printers and runs a design house where it creates new products, is making the files freely available for anyone to download and print. “Anyone can go to our website, download the file and immediately start printing. We had to work very hard to get the design right with a doctor, but everyone shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel, they can use our designs, start production and distribution,” he said.

Commonly referred to as additive manufacturing, 3D printing creates three-dimensional parts from computer-aided design (CAD) models by successively adding material layer by layer until the physical object is created. Both metal and plastic products can be made with a single machine without any kind of tooling.

3D printing technology has existed for quite some time but its popularity has seen a steady rise in recent years, especially in healthcare, aerospace and automotive sectors where they are used to create prototypes. However, the cost of raw materials, as well as limited production capacities, are still limitations.

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Meanwhile, Parth says his design team is already working with a few hospitals in Bengaluru and Mumbai to work on 3D printed ventilators. “It's complicated but we'll figure it out,” he said.