Emerging Technology Contributes to Pandemic Response

By Veronica Wendt

June 1, 2020

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Blake George is slated to work in the Pentagon this coming Summer and knew he would be working with the development of disruptive technologies for the Special Operations community.  To prepare, he found himself in a College of Information and Cyberspace classroom, learning about emerging technology.  As a part of the Future Emerging Technology elective, he learned about additive manufacturing and the ability to print high quality products on demand from his professor, Veronica "Vern" Wendt and a colleague, Keith Hardiman (an Air Force Civilian) who presented on additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, for his final project.

Fast forwarding to the COVID-19 crisis, Blake volunteers as part of a team that conducts company research for a White House led supply-chain task force for COVID-19 test kit supplies.  His work on the nasopharyngeal swabs for testing soon showed the limitations of the current manufacturing capabilities; only two major manufacturers of the medical grade (sterile) swabs are in production and only one of those manufacturers is in the US.

Test swab designs produced via additive manufacturing ("3D printing"). Image courtesy of 3dnatives, https://www.3dnatives.com/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/test-swabs-cover.jpg.

Working on other ideas, he and his team found a biotech company called Formlabs that does 3D printing. Based on his knowledge from the elective, he knew about both additive manufacturing and the possibilities it could bring to the table. He reached out to them, went up their leadership chain to the Chief Financial Officer and got connected to their Department of Defense...and was able to talk coherently about the subject!

The end result is that Formlabs is now connected to the White House Task Force, getting support through the Defense Production Act, and are working to ramp up their ability to produce 100K 3D printed medical grade swabs a day!  Emerging Tech making a difference!

About the Author

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Veronica "Vern" Wendt is a professor at the National Defense University (NDU) College of Information and Cyberspace (CIC). Prior to joining the College of Information and Cyberspace, she was assigned to the Pentagon as a member of the Joint Staff J6, where she led information sharing projects such as biometrics and multi-national information sharing. She retired after serving over 21 years with the U.S. Army Signal Corps Communications and Electronics community in a variety of positions that included installing an extensive satellite/radio/fiber-optic communications network in Iraq, overseeing classified and unclassified network operations, and developing Intelligence Community (IC) network architecture.