July 15, 2020

Open COVID-19 Community Lets Makers Contribute to Pandemic Relief

The COVID-19 crisis is unlike anything most of us have seen in…
Avatar Clare Scott

The COVID-19 crisis is unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes, and it’s very easy to fall into a sense of despair over the thousands of deaths, the disruption of normalcy, and the lack of a real sense of when it might be over. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see that there are plenty of reasons to hope, largely stemming from people who have chosen to work together and innovate to help others through creativity and technology.

On the surface, the situation looks rather dire, with supply chains and systems running into snags and facing the risk of breaking down. But every crisis is an opportunity for change, for new ways of approaching things. According to Abhishek Bali, 3DEXPERIENCE Lab North America Senior Manager, that’s exactly what is happening right now.

“It’s an engineering problem. It’s a design problem. It’s a problem of trust in some ways,” says Bali about the current situation. “But what I feel is that it’s a great test case for how much we have planned out in the future. There are a lot of things that have broken down globally due to unaccounted for overload, including systems, processes and protocols. But on the positive side, what I see is that it has given us, at the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, along with makers, designers and engineers, an opportunity to be more creative and discover new and innovative approaches to doing the same old tasks….Our bodies are confined to our homes, but not our minds. Our minds are everywhere and they are solving problems right now.”

Facilitating many of these problem-solving activities are the relatively novel hubs of creativity and skill building known as digital fabrication labs, or fab labs, also known simply as maker spaces. These spaces contain a variety of digital fabrication machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC mills, and more. Anyone who wants to use digital fabrication to build something, whether for personal or societal use, can take advantage of these spaces and their machines and software to design and create.

As coronavirus has spread and the medical system has found itself lacking in the necessary supplies, many makers have taken to fab labs to design and fabricate, often through 3D printing, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face shields. As Bali explains, these makers began their designs in software such as SOLIDWORKS and CATIA before 3D printing them and readily sharing them with whoever needed them, without seeking money or patents.

These makers may not even have a real idea of just how many patients and health care professionals they are helping with their designs. By sharing their designs in the public domain, they may be reaching other countries in addition to their own localities.

Dassault Systèmes has played a large role in enabling makers to innovate through fab labs by partnering with the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms as well as the Fab Foundation, a network of more than 1800 fab labs across the world. Dassault Systèmes has provided these labs with online tools and software to help their members take designs from concept to reality. When the pandemic first began, the 3DEXPERIENCE Ideas Lab was very proactive, Bali explains, in setting up an Open COVID-19 Community where makers could share their designs for PPE and more.

“The main objective of this community was to act as a single source of truth for all the makers, designers, engineers across the world who are trying to solve the same problem, which is coming up with their own alternatives of designs to help the healthcare systems locally and globally to meet the needs that have arisen because of the pandemic,” Bali continues. “In a time when traditional manufacturing methods and supply chains are strained beyond limit, it is wonderful to see the way in which distributed digital fabrication are coming to the rescue. Makers, designers and engineers in fab labs, garages and basements are continuously iterating on their designs using our 3D solutions and with the help of locally available 3D Printers and Laser Engravers, bringing them to life, ready for circulation.”

According to Bali, “Fab labs across the world are working 24X7 to place these designs in the hands of health workers. The 3DEXPERIENCE Lab is further helping them connect with local hospitals using a COVID-19 Dashboard that uses geo-location to map hospitals, fab labs and manufacturing service providers.”

The Open COVID-19 community has over 350 members, including those good Samaritans who post their ideas for feedback and contributions from other members, facilitating a collaborative effort to iterate the best possible designs. Whether it be a face mask, face shield or ventilator, these ideas are moved quickly through a pipeline from design to engineering to simulation, wherein mentors in the SIMULIA community run airflow simulations to test effectiveness of popular designs. Some of these designs are being accepted by hospitals around the world. With SIMULIA offering feedback on how to improve these designs, makers are able to move further along in their journeys with confidence.

While the world may seem like a dark place right now due to the pandemic, Bali sees a silver lining with so many people trying to help plug the gap between demand and supply of PPE across the world and making sure frontline healthcare workers are well-equipped.

“To be able to tap into the power of collaboration, dialogue and scientific simulation through the Open COVID-19 Community is a game changer for a maker burning midnight oil in his basement, trying to make a difference in the life of a stranger who is fighting the virus,”  Bali adds. “Dassault Systèmes and the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab in particular have a very robust focus on helping makers and startups and empowering them to create products that harmonized life and nature. So as long as we are committed to that vision we are actually enabling innovation to happen in the right brackets in the practice that are required, that are necessary right now, that are essential to making the world a better place.”

SIMULIA offers an advanced simulation product portfolio, including AbaqusIsightfe-safeToscaSimpoe-MoldSIMPACKCST Studio SuiteXFlowPowerFLOW and more. The SIMULIA Learning Community is the place to find the latest resources for SIMULIA software and to collaborate with other users. The key that unlocks the door of innovative thinking and knowledge building, the SIMULIA Learning Community provides you with the tools you need to expand your knowledge, whenever and wherever.

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