Makelab’s Christina Perla on 3D Printing PPE For Hospital Workers

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on April 21, 2020

Tech companies around the world are shifting their services in the age of COVID-19 to be able to accommodate a growing need for personal protective equipment and other services on the front line. Google and Apple are implementing new contact tracing strategies, while other companies like Makelab, a 3D printing company, are producing invaluable personal protective equipment (PPE) to be given to medical workers on the front lines.

We spoke with Christina Perla of Makelab to discuss how 3D printing is helping the medical industry during this time, and what we can expect from 3D printing in the future.

Grit Daily: You had your own adventures before Makelab. Share those.

Christina Perla: Oh man! I did start being an entrepreneur pretty young, so while my career before Makelab was short, it was definitely not boring. I went to Pratt Institute for Industrial Design and after dipping my toes in working after school, I realized I didn’t enjoy working for someone else and wanted to become my own boss. I quit my job and began to freelance industrial design and help clients with their product development process. I eventually ended up partnering with my now fiancé, Manny, and we freelanced together. We had the need for 3D printing to “iterate” and test out product ideas for clients, and we found this super small 3D printing company. We eventually became friends with the owners. One year after we started to work with them, they told us they were moving and asked us to take over their company. A few months later we rebranded to Makelab, and that’s where it all started. It has been a crazy ride, to say the least.

Makelab’s team with Christina Perla (center right). Pre-Covid.
GD: For the uninitiated, what is 3D printing? 

CP: 3D printing is the process of making 3-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. It uses an additive process that lays down successive layers of material, layer-by-layer until the object is created. Each of these layers are super thin, measuring 200 microns or even less, making the printed object extremely accurate and precise in measurements.

It is a technology used by various different industries. Consumer products and electronics use 3D printing in their multi-step product development processes to test out the form, fit, and function of their products. The beauty industry will use it to test out packaging designs. Marketing and advertising industries will use it to create one-time-use stand-in models to be used for photoshoots, giveaway items, video shoots, or presentations. 

GD: What makes it 3D?

CP: The output of the 3D printed object is three-dimensional.

GD: Why not use other methods to mass-produce PPE?

CP: Manufacturing PPE using 3D printing means that it can be done relatively quick. On the topic of PPE, there was such a large need for it in one period of time. Traditional manufacturing methods require molds to be set up, tooling to be set up, and high order minimums. For such a transient time, front-line workers and essential workers needed something now. While waiting for traditional manufacturers to produce and deliver tens of thousands of PPE products, 3D printing can fill in the gaps and manufacture thousands in a shorter period of time. The beauty of 3D printing is a flexible, agile supply chain. 3D printing PPE for COVID was a perfect use-case. 

GD: What’s one conventional wisdom about 3D printing that’s just plain wrong? 

CP: Haha, that it’s super fast and it spits out something like a coffee-maker that is ready to use, or a phone that is ready to use. While 3D printing is astronomically faster than traditional manufacturing methods (like injection molding, blow molding, etc.), it still takes some time to print an object.

At Makelab, the average print time we see is somewhere between 7-12 hours. Also, while you can make certain end-use items, most readily available technologies can only print in one color and material per object. So printing a ready to use consumer product or electronic may not be feasible. Where its strength is, is in prototyping. You can create a mockup of a coffee maker or phone that you can use as a representation of the final product.

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Jordan French is the Founder and Executive Editor of Grit Daily. The champion of live journalism, Grit Daily's team hails from ABC, CBS, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox, PopSugar, SF Chronicle, VentureBeat, Verge, Vice, and Vox. An award-winning journalist, he is on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur with one sale. Formerly an engineer and intellectual-property attorney, his third company, BeeHex, rose to fame for its "3D printed pizza for astronauts" and is now a military contractor. A prolific investor, he's invested in 40+ early stage startups through 2021.

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