Galina Spasova (Senior Research Analyst)

3D printing businesses all over the globe are pledging their support to fight the COVID-19 pandemic every day. In this post we will look at some of the most recent examples.

We discussed how COVID-19 is impacting the manufacturing industry: both demand and supply are being heavily affected. However, when it comes to medical equipment, crucial patient support and protection against the spread of the virus, supplies are of critical importance.

With an increasing number of patients daily, there is a strain on hospitals to provide protective and care equipment to all those in need.

3D Printed Wards, Thermometers, Lung Models, Ventilators

At the end of last month, China’s government announced that key high-tech sectors such as 3D printing, 5G, and IoT need to be boosted to cope with the fallout caused by COVID-19. Thousands of 3D printed face masks and protective goggles were sent to frontline medics to mitigate the shortage of supplies.

3D printed wards allowed for more patients to be admitted. Also, 3D printed non-contact infrared temperature scanners aided in patient diagnostics, and 3D printed life-size lung models helped educate medics on the effects of the virus.

In the UK, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock encouraged manufacturers to work together to urgently provide more ventilators to the NHS. In response, Ricoh 3D announced it would assist in their production. HP Inc also pledged to mobilise its production to deliver critical medical equipment to combat the pandemic and has already supplied hospitals near its R&D centres with over 1,000 3D printed parts.

Rapid Production of Low-Cost Respirator Valves, Filters and Face Shields

In Italy, the local 3D printing research institute Isinnova helped a hospital in Brescia to resolve a shortage in respirator valves — a component in high demand that needs to be replaced every 8 hours. A 3D printer was brought on site, the part was redesigned, and 100 items were printed within a few hours.

After testing the 3D printed valve, more were produced by a local 3D printing company at a cost below €1. Isinnova later developed another solution by adapting a decathlon snorkelling mask, adding a link connecting it to a ventilator. This solution was received very well by the global 3D printing community and the design is open for reproduction.

While such 3D printed items have proven helpful in emergency situations, the safety of these designs is under examination. At this stage, there is little visibility on the outcomes of the use of these components. They remain uncertified medical devices and should be used with caution and as last resort.

There is increased interest among healthcare providers in the quickly available and cheaper-to-produce medical necessities. This led to the emergence of online spaces such as the Emergency AM Platform, connecting those in need of assistance with 3D Printing companies.

After the European Commission issued an urgent request for 3D printing expertise, the MGA Medical group, which provides a similar service, received offers from over 250 companies from different industries, including automotive and sportswear, offering capacity, materials and support. In fact, the number of 3D printing central hubs and support networks worldwide to fight COVID-19 keeps growing daily.

Following a 3D printed face shield developed by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the Prague-based Prusa Research adapted an existing face shield design for 3D printing. The shield has been approved by the Czech Ministry of Health and its design and assembly instructions are freely accessible online. Prusa is printing approximately 500 face shields a day on 100 printers.

Last week, experts from the Czech Technical University (CVUT) developed a 3D printed respirator with a special filter which lasts up to a week. According to the Czech Health Minister, it provides greater protection compared to FFF3 respirators, with up to 10,000 units planned to be manufactured daily.

3D printing and COVID19 Twitter
Source: Adam Vojtěch (Twitter)

“CTU experts have developed a respirator on a 3D printer. The special filter lasts about a week. It provides even higher protection than FFP3. We agreed to start supplying them to university hospitals. Now we’re just fine-tuning the details. Starting next week, they could start producing up to 10,000 units a day.”

 

Since the Czech government made it mandatory to wear masks outside, people have started sewing them at home. To make this easier, 3D printing enthusiasts have developed plastic fittings to help sewing the hems of the mask.

3D printing and COVID19
Source: Martin Holain (Facebook)

We also saw the development of more pragmatic solutions to use in daily life, such as this hands-free door opener, designed by Materialise and demonstrated by Sintratec

3D Printing Copper Materials to Combat COVID-19

Five years ago, the University of Southampton published findings that copper inactivates coronaviruses within a few minutes and can prevent transmission. A recent US government funded study confirms that COVID-19 (referred to as HCov-19) persists for approximately three hours in the air, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic or stainless steel.

The Chilean/US-based company Copper 3D developed a range of antibacterial 3D printing materials that have been proven to eliminate 99.99% of fungi, viruses and bacteria, as well as a large number of microorganisms. Developed for prosthetics, surgical equipment and wound dressings, these materials are one example of how 3D printing can be used to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Copper 3D also recently developed a solution to combat the shortage of N95 masks called NanoHack, with an open source design.

3D printing and COVID19
Source: Copper 3D

The Bottom Line

With plummeting stocks and supply chains in disarray, this is both a crisis and an opportunity moment for 3D printing. The 3D printing industry itself may not witness growth, but the technology receives a chance to provide necessary support with emergency spare parts and supplies.

With shortened lead times and lower production cost, 3D printing has come through as a welcomed support to fall back on in this time of global health crisis.

What is really coming to the fore is the effort of the global 3D printing community, brainstorming about new applications, custom made solutions, and new materials. Open source designs and file sharing have become the norm.

Manufacturers are volunteering their production capacity and expertise, while governments and international institutions open platforms and dialogue for innovations that could contribute to the global fight against the pandemic.

 

If you want to learn more about this topic or have any questions, please contact Galina Spasova, or drop your details in the form on the top right.

If you want to know more about how COVID-19 will affect the technology landscape, see more resources here

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