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NIWC Atlantic Leverages 3D Printing Capabilities to Create PPE

by Heather Rutherford
02 July 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic shifted into high gear to support relief efforts.

In the on-demand manufacturing (ODM) lab in Charleston, South Carolina, the Production Quality and Manufacturing (PQM) team rapidly got to work making much needed personal protective equipment – better known as PPE – for NIWC Atlantic personnel across the United States and abroad.

Locating a facemask design approved by both the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Navy was the first challenge the team encountered. After determining the design, the production team then found themselves faced with the difficult task of sourcing filter material to support mask kits.

With bulk filter material initially unavailable, the team procured pleated media heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filters and painstakingly removed both cardboard packaging and retention wiring from more than 100 square household filters to cut filter material for facemask use.

However, the challenges did not end there. When it came time to make face shields, the team discovered there was a serious lack of commercially available PETG – polyethylene terephthalate glycol, commonly used in 3D printing.

Fortunately, this issue was resolved by working cross-organizationally, via connections provided by Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (DASN) and Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) COVID-19 response working group. The PQM team collaborated with Marine Corps Logistics Command (MARCORLOGCOM) to secure 300 spare face shields, shipped to NIWC Atlantic at no cost to support face shield production and assembly.

“It’s been an incredible teaming effort across multiple competencies and DoD organizations to provide these critical items to our workforce at a time when industry was unable to support demand,” said Aaron Ross, deputy senior manager of the Production, Quality & Manufacturing Engineering team.

As of June 1, the PQM team – composed of engineers, technicians and administrative specialists and members of NIWC Atlantic’s New Professionals program – has printed and assembled 1,444 face masks and 110 face shields which are being distributed to NIWC Atlantic’s mission essential employees around the world.

As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.


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