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Additive Manufacturing and Injection Molding Increasingly Complementary in Covid-19 Crisis

The coronavirus crisis has often simultaneously required the speed of additive manufacturing and the scale of injection molding.
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Westminster Tool 3D printed ear protector

When it first produced the ear protectors, Westminster Tool printed the devices on its Ultimaker 3D printer from PLA resin. 

As more states mandate their use, masks are becoming a recognizable sign of our coronavirus times. For most folks, mask use is limited to quick errands and the like, but for many “essential workers”, masks must be worn for hours at a time, taking a toll on the wearer’s ears. Appreciating that reality and wanting to aid its community, moldmaker Westminster Tool Inc. (Plainfield, Conn.) started making ear protectors (a plastic bracket that allows masks to be attached to it versus the ear) that it is donating locally.

How Westminster first attacked this project and what it transitioned to typifies much of the response to the pandemic—speed and agility matter initially, while sheer numbers are ultimately required.

Back in March, when Westminster started the ear protector project, it utilized its Ultimaker 3D printer to form the protectors from PLA, creating from 50 to 100 per day, with the latter possible if a second shift was involved. Appreciating the longer term need, Westminster began work on a two-cavity cold-runner tool, which it was able to design and manufacture in less than two weeks. Running polypropylene, which was more flexible and comfortable than the printed PLA, the tool allowed Westminster to make 10,000 in three days.

All those protectors will be donated to local senior living centers, healthcare facilities, grocery stores, firehouses, police departments and other facilities in need, according to Westminster. Each company employee has been allowed to donate packages of ear protectors to a local organization of his or her choice. These will be shipped or hand-delivered with handwritten thank you cards to show the company’s appreciation to all essential workers in the community.

“Westminster Tool is very connected with our local community and we are always looking for ways to be involved and assist,” Ray Coombs, Westminster president, said.  

Westminster Tool 3D printed ear protector

Westminster Tool ultimately built a two-cavity cold runner tool to injection mold the protectors, cranking out 10,000 in just three days.