How the 3D-printing community worldwide is aiding Ukraine
In early March, Jakub Kaminski was at home in suburban Boston when a grim message arrived from his friend, a surgeon in Ukraine: Tourniquets were in short supply, and without them, many Ukrainian soldiers could bleed out and die. Kaminski, a robotics engineering graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, thought his 3D-printing skills could help. Nearly four months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, critical shortages of medical supplies and weapons accessories persist. But the invasion has provided the 3D-printing community a challenge with little comparison, one that highlights the impact the technology has in plugging real-time shortages and underscores the dangers of having to rely on goods created in an ad hoc way. And though the fighting in Ukraine has declined from its peak, the community is continuing to create needed items as the war continues to drag on. “No one believes [the war] will end very quickly,” Kaminski said. The history of 3D printing traces to the 1980s, when American engineer Charles Hull patented a process called stereolithography, which uses ultraviolet light to shape objects.
In 2010, during the devastating earthquake in Haiti, medical devices were printed quickly, allowing doctors to provide health care without waiting for equipment to ship from abroad. But in February, as Russia invaded Ukraine, the 3D-printing community was put to the test. Mykhailo Shulhan, the chief operating officer of a 3D-printing company in Lviv, Ukraine, said that as soon as the invasion began, he started researching how 3D printers helped in other conflicts. These days, his company, 3D Tech Addtive, develops and prints an array of weapons accessories: AK-47 holsters so soldiers have a way to rest their guns; bullet magazines since empty cartridges often get thrown away instead of reused; carrying bags for grenades; and most recently, anti-reflective lenses for sniper scopes to reduce glare and prevent Ukraine snipers from being seen. While most 3D printers create supplies to stop death or ease fighting conditions, others are focusing on rehabilitating soldiers. Brett Carey, a physical therapist in Hawaii, designs 3D printed splints that can be sent to fighters. Carey has created two digital designs for splints that have been uploaded online and 3D printed over 1,500 times.
“There is such an emphasis right now on life saving technology,” he said. Kaminski, who posts his tourniquet designs online, said he worries about some 3D printers sending over supplies to the battlefield. Seeing that, Kaminski and a group of volunteers worked for weeks to redesign their tourniquet to meet the highest medical standards. Kaminski filmed the device being rolled over by a firetruck to show durability. “It is unethical to just come up with a totally new tourniquet design and deploy it during war,” he said.
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