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Kiwi 3D printer owners in garages scattered across the country are answering an online call to print 8000 plastic masks to protect frontline medical staff from Covid-19.

Over the past 48 hours, private 3D printer owners have downloaded a free open source design from a Czech Republic website to hurriedly print the plastic masks.

The initiative was started on Tuesday by Auckland 3D printing business Mindkit owner Tim Carr, who has created a database urging all 3D printer owners around New Zealand to print the masks for understocked medical clinics.

In just 48 hours, there are now 8500 orders from Kiwi clinics, some of which have just a handful of masks for 50-odd staff.

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Kapiti College art teacher Martin Vieregg has been the first to print around 70 plastic visor masks and deliver them to local Kapiti medical clinics today.

Art teacher Martin Vieregg has printed around 70 3D masks for Kapiti medical clinics.
Art teacher Martin Vieregg has printed around 70 3D masks for Kapiti medical clinics.

"I teach at Kapiti College and I play with 3D printers for my job," Vieregg said.

"My sister is also a GP and she was telling me weeks ago that she's already worried about this thing, and I'm thinking well okay, maybe I'm going to have to help these people if I can. I'd seen other stuff online about 3D printing helping.

"The last day before the lockdown there was an email from Tim Carr at Mindkit.

"Got on to him and at that point just started straight away 3D printing these things from home ... "

Staff at Waikanae Health clinic wearing the 3D printer-made face masks.
Staff at Waikanae Health clinic wearing the 3D printer-made face masks.

Vieregg grabbed all four 3D printers at Kapiti College and brought them back to his home, and started printing the plastic bands and rims that hold a face visor in place.

He said they've been running 24 hours a day since.

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However, Vieregg needed to source the plastic visors.

Finding none at Spotlight he called his mum from the store, who directed him to Graley Plastics and Laser Cutting in Lower Hutt.

"Got in touch with that guy, and he already had the file needed to laser-cut these visors out of the right kind of plastic," Vieregg said.

He than drove directly to Graley Plastics, 40 minutes away, and by the time he'd got there the approximately 70 visors were cut and ready.

"Picked them up from Lower Hutt and shot back home and just started assembling them," Vieregg said.

A doctor at Waikanae Health clinic wearing a 3D printer face mask.
A doctor at Waikanae Health clinic wearing a 3D printer face mask.

Morning. I know you're all awesome people and super busy. It seems I have fallen into something of a SEVERE shortage....

Posted by Martin Vieregg on Thursday, 26 March 2020

Today, Vieregg delivered one box of 30 visors to Team Medical Centre in Paraparaumu.

Dr Christine Coulter-Heron works at Team Medical and received the much-needed face masks.

Coulter had been in correspondence with Vieregg about his efforts over the past two days, as two of her six children are in his Kapiti College art classes.

"This is saving lives. The cost benefit of this is the opposite of the corona curve. Once you block yourself from giving this to someone else you're going to just smash it out of the way," Coulter said.

"Our receptionists, they're great people and they're good at what they do but they're really bad at wearing paper masks properly and they keep touching them and having them hang off their face.

Dr Christine Coulter-Heron works at Team Medical and says the delivery of 3D printed masks is
Dr Christine Coulter-Heron works at Team Medical and says the delivery of 3D printed masks is "incredible" and "will save lives".

"They're actually much more of a risk when they wear them wrong, than if they wear one of these. Because you can't really wear these wrong - once they're on, they're on."

Team Medical Clinic also passed on a box of the visors to nearby Waikanae Health, also in urgent need of masks.

Vieregg said he and Coulter had just been spreading the word online, and sourcing funds on a Givealittle page.

Receiving the 3D printed masks at Team Medical in Paraparaumu.
Receiving the 3D printed masks at Team Medical in Paraparaumu.
Dr Christine Coulter-Heron at the outside tent to treat Covid-19 at Team Medical, Kapiti.
Dr Christine Coulter-Heron at the outside tent to treat Covid-19 at Team Medical, Kapiti.

"Tim Carr in the background had set up this network on an app that has just gone berserk getting sent around the country to doctors and whatnot," Vieregg said.

He said in 48 hours the database has had 8500 orders from Kiwi medical clinics.

Four or five hubs have been created around NZ for 3D printer owners to collect the plastic visors, take them home, assemble the masks and then personally deliver the masks to medical clinics.

Kapiti College art teacher Martin Vieregg delivering a box of 3D masks he'd printed to Waikanae Health.
Kapiti College art teacher Martin Vieregg delivering a box of 3D masks he'd printed to Waikanae Health.

Today, 1100 plastic visors were delivered from Lower Hutt for 3D printer owners to pick up.

"It's just all of these people up and down the country are just all of a sudden mobilising to try and get these masks to the medical centres," Vieregg said.

"What you're talking about is the geeky garage people at home feeling like they've actually got a really useful purpose. For the most part 3D printers just make junk, plastic junk.

"All of a sudden we're feeling like we have a really amazing need. Because oh my god, the database - there's a spot where doctors can leave comments - and you're talking about medical practices with 30, 40, 50 staff that have like five face masks."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website