Over the course of one year, our predictable way of life was shifted into a new way of living due to COVID-19. In the blink of an eye, healthcare, schools, businesses, and government entities were thrown into unfamiliar conditions and restrictions.

Manufacturing was not immune to these unprecedented changes. As collective panic set in, factory floors emptied from quarantine mandates, and supplies dried up due to the sudden halt of imports.

Of the most essential products that required fast and on-demand manufacturing, was PPE (personal protective equipment). Prices for this equipment skyrocketed upwards of 1000% *Source: McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and hospitals were bleeding money to keep up with their staff’s demand.

Thinking Outside the Box

With traditional manufacturers shut down or with greatly reduced workforces, several innovative companies saw it as an opportunity to help. Adapting to the change and thinking outside the box, these companies came together to design a face shield frame that could be 3D printed.

Traditional 3D printing, in the eyes of the majority, is for the sole purpose of creating prototypes and low-volume production – when only a few pieces are required. For large volume production, the default process has always been injection molding. Faced with this unprecedented demand for PPE, how could 3D printing even make a dent?

Time was critical, and these parts needed to be made fast. In keeping costs low and allowing for flexibility as needs changed, 3D printing was determined to be the best solution. With hundreds of companies to choose from, healthcare entities needed to choose wisely for their supply base.

One of the first innovative companies to be approached was Athena 3D Manufacturing. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Athena has fully embraced the digital manufacturing movement. As an end-to-end, integrated 3D printing manufacturing partner, they utilized their HP Multi Jet Fusion printers to join the mission to make essential face shield frames’ for mass-production. 

Printing up to 2,500 pieces per week, Athena hasn’t slowed down, and they’ve been able to maintain consistency from the start of the COVID-19 outbreak through to today. Still, with traditional 3D printing only able to print in low-volume, how have they been able to accomplish such a feat?

Setting a New Standard with HP Multi-Jet Fusion

When they first started, Athena 3D wanted to set themselves apart. With hundreds of companies offering 3D printing services, the majority were focused on prototyping and low-run production. They decided to hit the ground running with equipment that could handle high-volume jobs consistently.

With HP Multi-Jet Fusion 3D printers leading the way in high-volume printing capabilities, the choice was easy. After acquiring the necessary equipment, Athena successfully launched their company with a primary focus on production – taking on jobs that require hundreds, sometimes thousands of 3D printed parts.

Being able to serve their customers by eliminating upfront tooling costs, providing quick turn around, and tackling complex geometries, truly set Athena apart from other manufacturers. For the customer, having the ability to manufacture thousands of units fast without spending hundreds to thousands on mold tooling saves them a tremendous amount of money.

Athena has become a well-oiled machine. Not only in the printing of parts but also in the post-processing required after the finished print. Being fully staffed, they are able to dedicate someone to every step in the process.

Part of the Solution

Today, Athena is still processing about 200-250 face shield frames per hour, intending to produce 2500 per week while still fulfilling existing customer orders on time. They have seen incredible growth through their willingness to help when many couldn’t.

They aren’t alone in their efforts. Athena has been working closely with HP in continuous improvement efforts to optimize each PPE design for 3D printing. Finding innovative ways to print the face frames to minimize assembly time and create a comfortable fit for the end-user.

Throughout all of this, Athena has managed to add even more 3D printers, skilled technicians, and a dedicated design engineering branch. They are now in the certification process for ISO and AS9100 which opens the door to further serve the aerospace and automotive industries. Athena 3D Manufacturing is just tapping into the vast opportunities that await them and their customers.