How 3D Printing Is Helping Medical Professionals Fight COVID-19
Andrew Wheeler posted on March 31, 2020 |
3D-printing communities worldwide are doing their best to help.

There are many 3D-printing communities working around the world right now to helpfight the effects and spread of the coronavirus. The number of COVID-19 cases continues its upward trajectory, underscoring a shortage of medical supplies. The problem is that medical facilities in the United States, and in many countries all over the world, are in desperate need of N95 masks, face shields and other protective equipment. Individual states in the U.S. are in part contributing to the shortage of supplies in a bidding war over the remaining national supply.

The whole world is coming together to help fill the shortage of medical supplies needed by medical professionals in hospitals around the world. There is a #MillionMaskChallenge trending on Twitter, and the 3D-printing community is rising to the challenge. Some 3D-printed designs are clearly innovative and usable, such as the 3D printed door opener from Belgium-based Materialise.

But there are some questions about the efficacy of one critical medical item that is in very short supply: the N95 mask. Designers and engineers have created 3D files to print out N95 masks, but the mechanics of 3D printers may exclude them from printing truly viable N95 masks with fused filament fabrication (FFF) printing. The mechanics of this type of 3D printing may not supersede cloth in terms of creating a tight enough seal for proper production and use. Layer-by-layer, FFF printing can leave air gaps that are hard to detect. Despite this one caveat, the 3D-printing community around the world is rising to the challenge, globally helping medical professionals in many ways.

CoVent-19 Challenge for Engineers and Designers

The CoVent-19 Challenge is perhaps the most prominent initiative asking engineers and designers to develop ventilators that can be shipped and used quickly. Anesthesiology residents of Massachusetts General Hospital and Stratasys are supporting the initiative and spreading the word throughout the GrabCAD community.

HPIs Collecting and Posting Medical Supply 3D Files

Download HP’s Collection of 3D Files to Fight Coronavirus

HP has designed and printed face masks to donate for the global 3D-printing community to make and assemble. The first products that can get out the door, HP said, include 3D-printed components for face masks, face shields, mask adjusters, nasal swabs, hands-free door openers and respirator parts.

3D-printed ventilator components. (Image courtesy of HP.)
3D-printed ventilator components. (Image courtesy of HP.)

HP also plans to begin testing and validating designs for other applications, including a mechanical bag valve mask (BVM) that is designed for use as a short-term emergency ventilator. It's also working on validating several hospital-grade face masks and expects them to be available shortly.

3D-printed swabs from FormLabs (Image courtesy of FormLabs.)
3D-printed swabs from FormLabs (Image courtesy of FormLabs.)

FormLabs has 60,000 printers under its command and has designed and printed a swab that will be used for testing the population in the United States. In the last few days, they received a notification from the FDA that the swab will be a Class I exempt product with one restriction: it must be manufactured in an ISO 35-controlled facility.

The European Commission and Cecimo

The European Commission is asking the 3D-printing community to gather information on what medical equipment and components can be designed and 3D printed. There is a European trade organization for additive manufacturing, Cecimo, to organize this task, help bolster medical supplies and brainstorm for more innovative ideas that could help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The European Commission will distribute Cecimo’s 3D-printed medical supplies to buyers that include healthcare organizations and various national authorities. Cecimo’s website contains a list of companies that can print medical supplies and has put out a request to their community, urging them to help in any way possible. The European Commission is taking care to reduce the amount of red tape involved in making designs available without any issues involving intellectual property claims.

(Image courtesy of Czech Institute of Informatics.)
(Image courtesy of Czech Institute of Informatics.)

The CIIRC R95 respirator and half-mask designs pictured above were created and printed by the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics. This design is posted on HP’s collection of 3D files. They are in the process of testing and evaluating the design for approval through official medical testing organizations.

(Image courtesy of Stratasys.)
(Image courtesy of Stratasys.)

Stratasys Joins in the Effort

The PPE (personal protective equipment) equipment for medical personnel pictured above is manufactured from a 3D-printed plastic frame and a clear plastic shield. For medical professionals, this mask goes on top of a particulate face mask for two layers of total protection. According to Stratasys, a hospital contacted them and stated that 1,500 of these PPE face shields were used in just one week. The hospital in contact with the company also mentioned that they were down to only six days of inventory of the PPE face shields over the course of a regular week.

Stratasys also set up a COVID-19 response page with relevant 3D-printing information. Stratasys Direct manufacturing facilities in Texas, California and Minnesota printed 5,000 frames and attaching clear plastic shields, with support from Dunwoody College of Technology in Minnesota, that will cover the faces of medical professionals working in close proximity to patients afflicted by the deadly coronavirus. They plan to ramp up production in the coming weeks.

3D-printed valves used in hospitals were designed and manufactured by FabLab Milan in Italy. (Image courtesy of FabLab Milan.)
3D-printed valves used in hospitals were designed and manufactured by FabLab Milan in Italy. (Image courtesy of FabLab Milan.)

FabLab Milan was called on by local hospitals to design and create 3D-printed valves for use inventilators. A local hospital ran short on replacement valves for respirators while treating patients. After contacting their supplier for more, hospital staff were told that they were none available in the time required. Massimo Temporelli, founder of FabLab Milan, caught wind of the hospital’s need and reached out to 3D-printing company Isinnova, which immediately brought a 3D printer to the hospital in northern Italy. The Venturi valves needed are used to alter oxygen and air flow on respirator masks. Patients using the respirator masks are suffering from shortness of breath, and the Venturi valves are critical components to keeping the respirators properly functioning. Isinnova’s founder, Cristian Fracassi, delivered 100 Venturi valves to the hospital. Now, Isinnova is working on designs to transform snorkeling masks into CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) masks.

Ford

Ford Motor Company has several additive manufacturing systems in place at its factories and is producing plastic face shields and components for PPE gear. According to the company, they will be ramping up assembly of face shields to over 100,000 per week.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen created a task force for transforming its manufacturing facilities into viable production units capable of producing ventilators and medical equipment. This includes 3D-printing medical components from over 125 industrial 3D printers.

SmileDirectClub

Dentistry company SmileDirectClub claims that is one of the largest 3D-printing manufacturers in the U.S. and opened its facilities to produce medical supplies and components (face shields and valves thus far) to help supply workers treating the pandemic.

(Image courtesy of Materialise.)
(Image courtesy of Materialise.)

Materialise

Download Materialise door opener

Materialise designed a 3D-printed door opener that allows people to open and close doors via their arms rather than their hands. The design is available to download for free. Materialise posted a directive for the 3D-printing community to print out its design, which will help stop coronavirus from transmitting itself to the population on this high-traffic everyday object.

Bottom Line

The ongoing contributions and efforts by the global 3D-printing community to help truncate wait times for badly needed medical supplies is a noble and critical mission in the fight against our coronavirus pandemic. The practical and nimble nature of 3D design coupled with 3D printing is helping. Face shields, ventilator valves, door-openers and swabs for testing printed by the thousands will surely continue to make a difference against the pandemic.


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