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Bringing Critical Medical Devices Online with 3D Printing

This is a guest post by Dr. Alexis Dang, Orthopaedic Surgeon at the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery


Protection of healthcare workers is the cornerstone of our community’s battle against COVID-19. The highest level of protection that is available consists of the use of Personal Air Powered Respirators (PAPR).

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Health care professional wearing a Mopec MAXAIR CAPR protective helmet. Image from

These PAPR systems filter all breathable air for the wearer in a positive pressure environment. For healthcare providers who cannot obtain a N95 mask fit, it is the only option. In addition to protecting against respiratory entry, these devices also protect the eyes. With the increased utilization of these devices during this pandemic, necessary consumables–such as disposable clear shields and other replacement parts–have come into short supply. In the event that original equipment manufacturer (OEM) shields and parts are not available, it is imperative to have alternatives available. Here at UCSF, the ORIF (Organized, Rapid, Intelligent Fabrication) team have developed our own version, which uses clear vinyl for the front and Tyvek material for the cuff.

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The UCSF PAPR system, utilizing clear vinyl for the front and Tyvek for the cuff.

The disposable parts of the PAPR system are attached to the helmet using small plastic clips. These clips are easily damaged and broken, especially with the increased use of the helmets. Over 10% of all helmets at UCSF were out of service with broken parts at the time the UCSF Clinical Technologies group—responsible for the repair/maintenance of medical equipment across UCSF—reached out to the ORIF team for a 3D printed solution. An additional 2-4% of helmets were also dropping out of use every week due to the failure of these specific clip parts.

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The original clip securing the disposable shield to the rest of the PAPR helmet

UCSF Clinical Technologies provided us with examples of the plastic clips. We initially planned on using CT scanning to replicate these parts, as others have done, but with such small parts, we were not sure that the resolution of a standard clinical scanner would be sufficient.

Redesigning the Clip

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3D model of a prototype replacement clip component in Tinkercad software

To ensure the best quality, we decided to design our own replacement clips from scratch, with the criteria being that the clips 1) fit onto the helmet and 2) secure the disposable shield in place.

Within hours of receiving the original sample part, a prototype was printed using Makers Lab printers set up for the UCSF 3D printed face shield project. Over the next few hours, a total of five prototypes were iterated to improve fit on the helmet and for the disposable shield. We extensively utilized the 3D modeling software Tinkercad for these iterations. Prototypes were printed primarily in PLA plastic material on the Ultimaker 3 3D printer.

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Samples of 3D printed prototype clips

Samples of these prototypes were then sent back to UCSF Clinical Technologies the next day for verification. During this time, continued iterations were made to the design to make them “break-resistant.” We reinforced areas of the design where the clinical failures were occurring, as well as modified the design to print without support structures.

The Final Product

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The final 3D printed replacement clip design

After verification, of fit, we began to mass produce these prints using several Prusa MK3 3D printers. We used Ingeo 3D850/3D870 impact-resistant PLA for these finalized parts. This material was selected based upon our prior work showing its mechanical performance. By the end of week, we had produced enough spare parts for our entire supply of PAPR helmets at UCSF.

By utilizing 3D printing, we were able to fix nearly all of the broken helmets in our hospitals’ current supply, and with our new supply of clips, we will be able keep these helmets readily available for our clinical teams!

We have also started providing these clip parts for other Bay Area hospitals that are in need of these parts.

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80 clip models fit onto a Prusa MK3 printer for mass production

Printing Specifications

The clips are printed at 0.2mm layer heights, 3 perimeters, 70% grid infill, and “hot” at 230C to maximize layer bonding. This causes more stringing of plastic, which is removed during post-processing. 

The printed clips can also be annealed using the published protocols below for additional strength if needed:

Creative Commons License
All files are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Do you have your own project in mind? Register (virtually) for one of our Tinkercad or other 3D modeling classes on the Makers Lab pop-up calendar.

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