In the past decade, 3D printing has occupied some interesting niches. It’s an invaluable prototyping tool for countless industries and has found regular use in architecture, biotech, prosthetics, and plenty of other disciplines. The rise in consumer-grade printers has also given rise to a vibrant maker community. But for the most part, the technology has remained a niche tool instead of a household name.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals around the world faced frightening shortages of medical equipment — essentials like face masks and shields, testing swabs, ventilators, and more. While traditional supply chains scrambled to react, 3D printing outfits large and small have begun chipping away at the short-term demand. Most 3D printers can’t churn out inventory as quickly as other manufacturing methods like injection molding, but they can produce a wide variety of designs without the need for new molds or retooling. By sharing equipment designs and pooling resources, members of the 3D printing community have banded together to become something of a manufacturing hive mind during this pandemic.