Nexteer Automotive Uses 3-D Printers to Produce PPE Due to COVID-19

Auburn Hills’ Nexteer Automotive is using its 3-D printers in Saginaw and Poland to make plastic masks and face shield headbands in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Nexteer 3-D printed mask
Nexteer is 3-D printing face masks and face shield headbands. // Photo courtesy of Nexteer Automotive

Auburn Hills’ Nexteer Automotive is using its 3-D printers in Saginaw and Poland to make plastic masks and face shield headbands in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is working with local government and medical organizations to donate the supplies to nearby medical facilities.

As of April 1, Nexteer was producing about 50 face masks and 100 face shields per day. It was exploring additional manufacturing processes that were expected to increase capacity to more than 1,000 masks per day. In Poland, the company is providing complete face shields to the medical community by 3-D printing the headbands and procuring the plastic face shields from a third party.

“Around the world, our Nexteer team consists of smart, passionate problem solvers, and I’m so proud of how our team members have found creative solutions to help our local communities with much needed medical supplies,” says Robin Milavec, senior vice president, chief technology officer, and chief strategy officer. “We will continue to work with local medical and government partners, as well as our suppliers, to provide much-needed face masks and shields to help the brave medical teams on the frontlines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In Saginaw, the company is using its 3-D printers to produce masks in two sizes to provide a better fit for men and women. The initial prototypes were reviewed by members of Saginaw’s medical community before manufacturing began. As of March 30, more than 150 masks had been given to Michigan Health Improvement Alliance Inc. to fit with filter material and elastic ear straps.

“Our Saginaw site has a long history of helping our community and country in times of a crisis,” says Dan Dralle, executive director of global manufacturing engineering. “During World War II, we produced M1 Carbines, and now our team is working around the clock to produce masks for the medical community to help in the fight against COVID-19.”

The team was exploring other options to increase mask production as of April 1, such as working with Mayer Tool and Engineering Inc., a mold manufacturer, to use an injection molding machine in one of Saginaw’s plants to produce around 1,000 medical grade plastic masks per day. Mayer was working around the clock to help speed up the development process so production could begin as soon as possible. Nexteer was also working closely with its resin supplier, PolyOne Corp., to supply the materials necessary to manufacture the face masks.

Nexteer has been approached by automotive OEMs to assist in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, says Milavec. As of April 1, the company had not found a good match but said it remains in communication with its OEM customers.

The Poland team was providing around 100 face shields per day as of April 1 and working with local officials to distribute them.

“Our 3-D printers are typically used to create prototype steering systems for our automotive OEM customers, but our team found a creative solution to leverage our 3-D technology to help our local community fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Piotr Dembiński, communications manager for Europe, Middle East, Africa, and South America. “Within just two days of starting this initiative, our engineers were producing masks – showcasing the strength of our One Nexteer team when faced with a problem. We’re also offering to share our project details and key learnings with other companies looking to use their 3-D technology to produce medical equipment.”

Written by Grace Turner for dBusiness magazine.