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Corona-Not makes you inventive: Berlin suppliers are now building face shields

Because protective masks are missing, medical personnel are now using constructions made of foils and adhesive tapes. A doctor in Berlin desperately asks for help. A car supplier reacts. A few days later, she has a visor from the 3D printer. A business model with a future?

An inconspicuous 3-D printer is in the glass tinker workshop in the factory hall of the Vielstetter company in the south of Berlin. A nozzle hums monotonously on a robot arm and slowly and deliberately draws light blue stripes in a semicircle, always back and forth. The device is no larger than two stacked beverage crates. But the impact it could possibly have is huge.

Until then, patience is required. The medium-sized company has it. The automotive supplier with its almost 50 employees wants to help, if only on a small scale. The idea is obvious in the Corona crisis: face masks are now to be produced in addition to gear parts.


The holder for a face shield in a 3D printer.

(Photo: Vielstetter)

In normal times, prototypes for truck transmissions are printed here to test them before they are made in metal. It will take a while before masks are mass-produced. The structure in the 3D printer, which looks like a painting made of liquefied toothpaste, is the starting point for one of the prototypes for the face shields. In fact, it’s the frame that holds the film in front of the face. The device currently needs almost eight hours in the in-house micro laboratory before the holding device is ready.

“Good for business, good for solidarity”

One of them is still spellbound: “The device creates four masks a day,” says Olaf Jelken proudly. His eyes light up when he sees this new beginning, as if he were a small miracle. Jelken has been the managing director of the traditional Mariendorf company for ten years. He cannot change the world, he knows that. The fact that the process is excruciatingly slow doesn’t seem to irritate him. He sees it as sporty: “Short official channels, quick implementation. That’s how it is with us,” he says while walking through the factory building. “Quick help is required here. It is good for the company and good for solidarity. It is what hopefully will benefit society at the moment.”

The company mainly supplies parts for the commercial vehicle sector. Major customers include Daimler, Bosch and ZF Friedrichshafen. For some parts that Vielmetter builds, there are currently no other suppliers or alternatives. “This helps us in difficult times,” says the 51-year-old. “If we don’t deliver tomorrow, then a tape will stand still for several weeks or even months.”

“Patients have better protective equipment than we do”

*Data protection –

A colleague’s wife brought the idea of ​​the face shields to Jelken. Antje Rätzer is a general practitioner and works in a small medical center in Lichterfelde, where corona patients are also treated. “For reasons of self-protection and for the protection of the patients, I cannot treat my patients personally, I can only take care of them by phone because I no longer have any protective equipment,” she says, completely amazed. This means that outpatient care by family doctors is practically impossible without endangering yourself and the team. The market had been completely empty for months. The only alternative: dubious sources with unacceptable prices. “When and where I can get supplies is currently not clearly communicated.”

Desperate doctors and nurses like Rätzer now use films and adhesive tape from the hardware store. “It is frustrating!” Complains Rätzer. “The urgently needed material is in the wrong place. The patients who come sometimes have better protective equipment with regard to mouth protection than we do.” In her distress, she turns to her husband one day after work. “I thought that the 3-D printer in the factory could certainly also build a face shield for me.” When the call for help arrives at the boss the next day, he is there immediately.

A perspective for the time after Corona

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The view of the 3-D printer from above: Here you can see the filament-shaped filament that supplies the “toothpaste mass” for printing.

(Photo: Vielstetter)

Jelken knows about difficult times. The face protection project was born out of necessity in two ways. The company is actually well positioned. The doldrums in the automotive sector have left deep traces in the company. At the moment it is in temporary bankruptcy. The commercial vehicle market in Asia has collapsed. Business has halved in China and India, which have been the growth drivers of many meters in recent years.

Even if the company is on the move in the more robust commercial vehicle market, the medium-sized company is likely to face even more difficult times. “In May or June, Vielmetter will feel a dent,” insolvency administrator Stefan Ludwig von Schultze & Braun predicts. “The European markets including Germany are currently shutting down all production sites.”

How many will Vielmetter soon apply for government aid to help them get through the Corona crisis? Jelken and Ludwig hope at least for a small additional business through the 3D printing of visors – if necessary, there could also be other products. “The business idea will not be able to compensate for the overall decline in sales,” says Ludwig, “but there will certainly be new business relationships for the company, even after the Corona crisis”.

“A drop in the bucket”


The automotive supplier Vielmetter has filed for bankruptcy in Berlin.

Jelken wallows in optimism, even if the hurdles are high. For legal reasons, masks of this type may not be sold as medical devices. He wipes away any doubts about the heel of his face shields. Jelken is currently clarifying these and other regulatory requirements with the authorities. His hopes currently rest primarily on the Berlin plans for an improvised hospital on the exhibition grounds. Up to 1000 additional beds for corona patients are planned. The face shields, which can also be worn in addition to medical protective clothing, may be welcome to doctors and nurses.

“We are highly motivated,” says Jelken. He now wants to ramp up production quickly. Because other companies are already starting with the same idea. Because there is no money for large investments, he is thinking about cooperations. “We can team up with other companies that have 3D printers,” he says. As a doctor, Rätzer is grateful for the commitment of companies like Vielstetter. “It has to be quick and unbureaucratic now.” Long-winded certifications should be shortened. And: “The production of small companies should now be coordinated centrally,” she says.

In the meantime, she can already test the first prototype of the face mask from the Vielstetter printer in her practice. “It makes me feel a little better protected,” says Rätzer. “I also hope to be able to work even more resource-efficiently with this face shield. If I still had FFP-2 masks, I could approach my patients again.” The faceplate remains “a drop in the bucket” for the time being.

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