The first case of COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, in the United States was discovered in late January and since then has taken a stronghold on the day-to-day operations of the nation. The number of identified Coronavirus cases in the United States now exceeds all other countries as governments and medical experts race towards a solution.
A handful of engineers at various Navy Labs, including Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division in Bethesda, Maryland, are looking to use their knowledge and creative tools to assist in coronavirus relief efforts in their corners of the country. Medical response organizations are seeing widespread shortages in equipment such as masks, face shields, ventilators and other critical items with the severity of the virus increasing. However, some individuals whose primary objective is to outfit the United States Navy and Marine Corps with high quality tools believe they could leverage their knowledge to help bridge that gap.
“In crises like this, the local response is the most important,” said Dave Newborn of Carderock’s Maritime Aviation and Unmanned Underwater Systems Division. “Being able to understand local needs and problem sets and responding to those in a local fashion.”
Following that line of thinking, Newborn and others decided to form the NSWC Carderock COVID-19 Additive Manufacturing Rapid Response Team. For almost a month, the group has gathered together every weekday to discuss new ideas and plans of action to support entities within their communities. Other Warfare Centers, such as Indian Head and Crane, have joined the effort to compile concepts and inspire more possibilities among one another. Collaborative efforts are also extending beyond the naval enterprise according to Dr. Krista Michalis, who serves as Carderock’s liaison to the NavalX Tech Bridge team.
“Carderock has many types of advanced manufacturing capabilities to include additive manufacturing both metal and plastics, and a talented workforce that we’re leveraging to partner with our innovation ecosystem in Montgomery County and the state of Maryland to support the COVID-19 response,” she said.
Much of the work to date have been theories, conceptual designs and some experimentation. However, the command’s Additive Manufacturing Branch recently fulfilled a request from the Marine Corps for printed face shields that will be used by a hospital in Colorado in the coming weeks, proving that the capability to provide is there.
However, one of Carderock’s greatest contributions to this COVID-19 fight is through research and development, using its expertise in specific areas. As described by Dr. Cynthia Waters, there will need to continue to be a degree of coordination that includes more players than just Carderock. A need for those linked relationships is imperative to ensure proper guidance for equipment needs are given and met in the manufacturing process as well as to give the scientists time to adequately test their ideas.
“We have experience with materials and product characterization. We look at the qualifications and then certify parts that have been made by the 3D printing process,” said Waters, the SSTM for Advanced Manufacturing Materials at Carderock. “If you’re going to put a 3D printed part over your mouth and expect for it to filter away viral particles, then we want to make sure that we’re not doing harm by the polymers possibly off gassing deleterious chemicals or compounds to the wearer of the device.”
A series of reports from Italy highlighting the country’s use of additive manufacturing technology to help combat shortages in healthcare equipment also inspired the team’s formation, but Newborn said that contributions are going beyond just additive manufacturing. The idea is not to be constrained to additive manufacturing or some other process, but to leverage what Newborn has been spearheading to provide a solution based on what is available. Right now, though, the goal is to turn those beliefs into affirmations, which means more brainstorming, researching and testing for solutions.
When the solutions phase approaches, Waters said she hopes that Carderock’s response team can provide innovative templates and work with the Food and Drug Administration and Veterans Affairs to help organizations like America Makes, which is a public-private venture that will help innovators to a requirement.
“Those relationships are about understanding what the FDA and VA are seeing as problems and how Carderock’s capabilities can be applied to those problem sets,” Newborn said.
There is no telling how soon the fight against COVID-19 will end. Each day, many challenges face those on the front lines of the battle, especially when it comes to having the proper equipment to protect themselves. Scientists within the Navy are, like many other industries, starting to turn their focus towards stopping the spread of the virus in hopes that their areas of expertise can address issues that others may not.
“This is a war,” Waters said. “It’s not against another human adversary, but certainly it’s one that’ll affect our safety in the United States and the entire world.”