The Way We Work Now: Rapid Collaboration to Produce Crucial Protective Gear Early in the COVID-19 Crisis

A doctor and an HP employee teamed up from afar to design 3D-printed face shields for hospitals in short supply.
Jul 16, 2020 2:10 PM ET
Blog

When Clara Remacha Corbalán and Abdel Hakim Moustafa met for coffee in early March, it felt like the final moment of calm before a storm. The next day, Spain declared a state of emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic spread through the country, and within a few days, the Barcelona hospital where Moustafa worked as a cardiologist was inundated with COVID-19 patients. Spain has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the pandemic, with close to 250,000 cases to date, 20% of which have been healthcare workers.

“Suddenly, everything had changed drastically and completely,” says Moustafa, who describes those early days of the pandemic as like seeing a hurricane coming without knowing how to prepare. Doctors and nurses from across the hospital were assigned  to the ICU, where they worked around the clock to care for critically ill patients, quickly depleting their stocks of PPE (personal protective equipment). “We were overwhelmed,” Moustafa says. “Clara and I talked about what we could do in the short term and how we could take advantage of HP technology to do it.” 

Before the crisis, Remacha, medical market development consultant and COVID-19 response applications lead at HP’s 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing lab in Barcelona, had been working with Moustafa at Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau on developing 3D-printed anatomical models to help educate patients and guide surgeons. Once COVID-19 hit, they quickly shifted to design and develop the protective gear Moustafa and his colleagues so desperately needed — all while working from a distance.

With Remacha working from home and Moustafa powering through 12-hour shifts at the hospital, their rapid-fire collaboration became central to the design, testing, and approval of a new adjustable, 3D-printed face shield that could be manufactured locally and delivered immediately to healthcare workers on the front line. 

Watch: The Way We Work Now: Rapid Collaboration to Protect the Front Line | Episode 2

Months of development in a single week

The following week was a whirlwind of activity — video conference calls, WhatsApp messages, and rapid iteration to create a face shield that could protect doctors and nurses from infection, fit snugly and comfortably throughout long shifts, and be manufactured quickly using HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. Remacha convened and led a team that grew to more than 900 volunteers from across HP to work on developing 3D-printed medical applications for COVID-19 response, including the face shields as well as parts for ventilators and other critical supplies.

“Typically, we’re used to a sequential way of doing things, but in this case we were doing everything in parallel — design, testing, validating, certifying, and so on,” says Remacha. “We learned that things can be done much faster than you might expect if you have the right passion, the purpose, and the right team.”

On a Saturday afternoon, Moustafa explained the requirements the face shields needed to meet, and Remacha coordinated multiple teams at HP to get the work done, including a team focused on design, another on getting regulatory approval, and yet another to work on supply chain logistics for non-3D-printed parts, like the clear acetate sheet on the front of the face shield. By Monday, the initial prototype was ready. A local cab driver became their on-call courier, shuttling prototypes through Barcelona’s eerily abandoned streets to deliver them to Moustafa at the hospital, where nurses tried it on and offered video feedback to send back to the HP team.   

Day by day, the HP team improved on the design while working with local authorities to accelerate the regulatory approval process. Remacha says she was charging her phone five times a day, fielding requests from local hospitals in between Zoom calls with various teams at HP and check-ins with Moustafa. Along the way, Remacha and Moustafa became daily fixtures in each other’s lives. Remacha virtually joined birthday parties for Moustafa’s daughter’s stuffed animals, and Moustafa sent Remacha all the supplies she needed to join him via video chat for a cup of Lebanese tea at the end of their long days. 

“We were super stressed, working 24/7,” Remacha says. “It’s funny, but we got closer than we would have if we were face to face. COVID completely changed our relationship working together, and it will be like that forever now.”

By Friday, the new face-shield design was finalized and certification was under way.

The collaboration goes global

Along with an initial delivery of 8,000 face shields to Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau and other hospitals across Spain, Remacha and her team worked to get the new face shields to hospitals around the world that were also struggling with depleted stocks and disrupted supply chains for PPE. HP shared the final designs with its 3D printing customers and partners across the globe and also published them online for anyone to download.

In France, for example, through a volunteer network called Les Visières de l’Espoir (Face Shields of Hope), 20 HP customers used the designs to 3D print more than 20,000 face shields using HP technology. HP customers in the US have printed tens of thousands more, and some have been making their own adjustments to the design and then making those new iterations publicly available as well.

Beyond face shields, HP has also been working with its community of 3D printing partners worldwide to manufacture parts for ventilators, nasal swabs for testing, hands-free door openers, masks, and other PPE — all able to be customized and produced on demand quickly and locally where they’re needed most. Together, HP and its partners have 3D printed more than 2.3 million medical components in response to the pandemic.

“The response to the COVID-19 crisis is a watershed moment for the industry,” says Ramon Pastor, interim president of 3D printing and digital manufacturing at HP. 

Moustafa, who was already excited about the potential for 3D printing in the medical space, says the impact of his collaboration with Remacha and HP has been bigger than he could have imagined, and also just the beginning.

“Unfortunately, we know this pandemic is not over,” Moustafa says. “This experience showed us that having doctors and engineers work together like this is lifesaving.”

WATCH NEXT: See how a 6th-grade teacher in Oakland navigated the sudden shift to distance learning in Episode 1 of "The Way We Work Now."