Nexteer Automotive said it was using its 3D printers in Saginaw, Michigan and Tychy, Poland to make plastic masks and face shield headbands, working with local government and medical organisations to donate the supplies to nearby medical facilities.

It currently produces about 50 face masks and 100 face shields each day but is “exploring” additional manufacturing processes expected to increase capacity to more than 1,000 masks per day.

For face shield production in Tychy, the company is providing complete face shields to the medical community by 3D printing the headbands and procuring the plastic face shields from a third party.

Saginaw is currently using 3D printers to produce masks in two sizes to provide a better fit for men and women. The initial prototypes were reviewed by members of the local medical community before manufacturing began. The team is targeting production of approximately 50 masks per day. As of 30 March, 150 masks had been given to Michigan Health Improvement Alliance (MiHIA) to fit with filter material and elastic for ear straps.

The Saginaw team is working with Mayer Tool & Engineering, a mould manufacturer, to use an injection moulding machine in one of Saginaw’s plants to produce around 1,000 medical grade plastic masks per day. The mould manufacturer is working around the clock to help speed up the development process so production can begin as soon as possible. Nexteer has also been working with resin supplier PolyOne Corporation to supply the materials necessary to manufacture the face masks.

Nexteer noted it had been approached by automotive OEMs to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic response. While none of the opportunities have yet been a match, the supplier remains in close communications with OEM customers to find ways to assist where possible.

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Meanwhile, a facility in Tychy, Poland is providing around 100 face shields a day for doctors and paramedics. The plant is working with the municipal office in Tychy to distribute the face shields to local medical services.

The 3D printers are typically used to create prototype steering systems for automotive OEM customers. It took two days to gear up for the new process and the supplier is offering to share project details and key learnings with other companies looking to use their 3D technology to produce medical equipment.