Leveraging 3D-Printing to Protect Frontline Medical Workers

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New York and the surrounding area are currently the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with frontline healthcare workers bearing the brunt of the onslaught, and also taking the biggest risk by helping other people.

When Rockwell Malave, a New Jersey-based Manager and Principal Cloud Architect for TCS, realized his daughter-in-law was going to be on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, he wasted no time in leveraging his ingenuity and entrepreneurialism to try and keep her and her coworkers safe.

After all – having just recovered from COVID-19 himself, he had the time.

“I’d just come back from a business trip,” Rocky explains, “and I wasn’t feeling well. I went to the doctor and the assistant comes out to take my temperature. A few moments later, the doctor comes in wearing full PPE. I’d tested positive for COVID-19.”

Rocky was immediately placed on quarantine – but after his recovery, now stuck at home, he decided to make the most of his time by demonstrating the care for his community, problem-solving skills, and ingenuity that had made him such a great fit for TCS.

“My daughter in law works as Surgical Technician at Hackensack Meridian Health Hospital,” Rocky explains. “I found out that 85 patients there were on ventilators, battling COVID-19, and I wanted to do something to help protect both the patients, and the caregivers like my daughter who look after them.”

“I got the idea to research masks, and then got my hands on a 3D printer. I found the file for a mask from the Billings Center that met the standards of the National Institute of Health and started printing and giving them out.”

“They’re a stop-gap measure,” Rocky admits. “They don’t meet the standards of the FDA approved N95 masks, but these masks do offer protection and can be used by people who work at the hospitals and healthcare institutions to free up the N95 masks for frontline caregivers who need them most.

”The World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) both acknowledge that cloth masks are better than going without, but ideally masks must contain medical-grade filtration fabric or filtration material that’s Merv-14 or greater. After conducting his research, Rockwell committed to producing 3D printed masks that feature a replaceable filtration system and meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“What I’m making covers you, protects you, and you can replace the filter. I actually take a single, sterile surgical mask and can make four replaceable filters for my mask from it – stretching supplies even further.”

“Our town deposits volunteer-made masks over at the Town Hall in Wayne, where they get distributed to nursing homes, healthcare workers, firefighters, and EMS personal. In our town, I’m just one of 20 or 30 printers who are producing masks. We’re just stretching out resources – they’re not difficult to produce, and it’s not difficult to do, but every little helps.

”The desire to help others is part of Rocky’s DNA, and one of the reasons he was attracted to work for TCS – a company that considers the community a shareholder in the business.“

When you live in a community,” Rocky explains, “it's important to have the sense to say: ‘I need to give back.’ Even in the little forms and little ways. When I was a kid growing up in New York, everybody used to come out and clean the stoop and clean the sidewalk without waiting for the street cleaners. We all took responsibility for keeping the city clean. I’m just continuing that. It’s not a fantabulous story – I didn't go to the moon, or anything. I got to binge Netflix as well, since I’m using a 3D printer – so it takes a couple of hours to print 3 masks.

"Rockwell was able to produce more than 200 low-cost masks in very short order – producing around six per day. Aligned with the TCS commitment to the environment, the material Rockwell uses to print them in is a PLA – a biodegradable material derived from renewable resources like corn.

Even making what he considers a small difference is important, Rocky admits.

“I’m 62-years-old and I feel like I’ve only been through a situation like this three times in my life. First time was when I was five – I had to shelter in place in the basement in New York for a week and horde food during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The next time was when I was living and working downtown – I was a World Trade Center survivor, and saw the tower I worked in come down.”

“Now, this comes along – it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in my life! Locked in our homes like our own little prisons, and we all have to walk around in masks. Strangest thing I've ever seen.”

As bizarre as it is, Rocky’s commitment to the community has allowed him to make the best of it – and to demonstrate the values that make TCS’ global workforce feel like family.