Under normal circumstances, SmileDirectClub (SDC)  basically does one thing: It makes and sells customized teeth-straightening aligners directly to the public. But these are not normal  times. With the COVID-19 epidemic growing, the company has begun to use its 3-D manufacturing capacity to produce medical-grade face shields and respiratory face masks for the healthcare workers on the front lines of the crisis -- as many as 7,500 a day. St. Luke's Boise (Idaho) Medical Center will receive the first batch of 1,000 face masks.  

SmileDirectClub is one of the largest 3-D printing based manufacturing operations in the United States -- the flexibility of those devices allows it to create plastic aligners to fit its customers individually. That same quality is allowing it to rapidly shift some of its FDA-certified production facilities to start manufacturing protective gear for healthcare professionals. It was only last week that it made public its plans to do this.

3-D printer

Image source: Getty Images

With hospitals and epidemiologists warning that the U.S. medical system is about to run short of vital medical equipment such as respirators, some automakers are exploring the possibility of using their manufacturing facilities to help fill the nation's needs. Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: "We will make ventilators if there is a shortage." Other automakers like Ford and General Motors are in discussions with the Trump administration about shifting some of their manufacturing capacity to producing healthcare equipment.

While SmileDirectClub can't manufacture gear as complicated as respirators, items such as face shields (or respirator valves) are entirely within reach for its 3-D printers. 

Shares of SmileDirectClub were up 19% in late afternoon trading on Friday.