New French Organization Covid3D Creates 24-7 3D Printing Factory for 40 Hospitals
Andrew Wheeler posted on June 04, 2020 |
Round the clock printing medical supplies use Artec 3D scanner for quality control tests.

COVID-19's Impact on the Global Supply Chain

Since the beginning of this year, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the fragility of global supply chains that provide life-saving equipment including ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical facilities around the world.

3D printing has long emphasized its power to decentralize global manufacturing by manufacturing locally, but the material with which it operates is still beholden to the global supply chain.

The pro-decentralization argument in favor of additive manufacturing systems generally goes something like this: global supply chains require huge amounts of transportation. Since additive manufacturing systems 3D print products on site without expensive tooling from a 3D design file, the cost of shipping and production is reduced. CAD files are easy to reverse engineer and easy to redesign, greatly reducing time-to-market as well. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, this argument was not airtight by any means. The cost of producing certain non-essential and essential goods (including medical supplies) was still cheaper by traditional methods like injection molding and transcontinental shipping. 

Pictured here are workers on the production line manufacturing COVID-19 testing kits in a biopharmaceutical company in Nantong, China in March. Many of the world’s critical medical supplies are manufactured by China and the United States. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the global medical supply chain has been turned upside-down, affecting the ability of many nations to procure critical medical products to treat their local outbreaks of COVID-19. (Image courtesy of FeatureChina via AP Images.)
Pictured here are workers on the production line manufacturing COVID-19 testing kits in a biopharmaceutical company in Nantong, China in March. Many of the world’s critical medical supplies are manufactured by China and the United States. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the global medical supply chain has been turned upside-down, affecting the ability of many nations to procure critical medical products to treat their local outbreaks of COVID-19. (Image courtesy of FeatureChina via AP Images.)

However, the 3D printing community has risen to fill in the medical supply chain gaps caused by the pandemic. The global supply chain was thrown off-kilter by the sudden skyrocketing demand for essential goods, complicated by sudden trade restrictions and difficulties imposed by countries hoping to contain their local outbreaks. Producing hundreds of designs that address medical supply shortages to both the medical industry and the general population, the global 3D printing community continues to be incredibly helpful to the general population and medical communities around the globe affected by the current health crisis.

As of this week, there are approximately 5,800,000 known COVID-19 cases reported around the world. About 360,000 people have died since the virus broke out of Wuhan, China in January of 2020. France has reported approximately 186,000 cases so far with nearly 30,000 casualties and 70,000 recoveries.

Covid3D.org

One hospital in Paris began developing a plan to address the sharply increasing deficit of hospital beds, essential services and essential equipment due to the pandemic. This hospital is 3D printing medical equipment around the clock and using another 3D technology, 3D scanning to perform quality control on all the parts produced. Led by a surgeon in Paris, a new operation was launched to 3D print more medical supplies on demand using the Artec 3D Space Spider for the rigorous quality control necessary to improve. 

An initiative led by Paris-based surgeon Dr. Roman Khonsari, along with the Paris hospital authority APHP (Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris) began Covid3D.org.

With funding from the University of Paris and luxury group Kering, the group planned to leverage 3D technology to build a large 24/7 factory in the hospital to produce essential medical equipment badly in demand due to the newly warped global supply chain of medical goods. The goods needed to be 3D printed rapidly, efficiently and cost-effectively.

Fifty engineers, developers, entrepreneurs and doctors mobilized around the initiative, and in ten days, Covid3D had officially launched.

Covid3D’s 24/7 Additive Manufacturing System

According to Dr. Khonsari, “There’s no textbook for 3D printing medical devices during a global pandemic. And a big challenge as the large amount of legal work involved—this is something we wouldn’t normally be able to do, and we were now creating a brand-new framework for the purpose of printing medical supplies.” 

Paris was running out of medical supplies and manufacturing centers like China and the USA were increasingly slowing exports of their medical products to meet increasing internal demand within their own borders. But Paris wasn’t the only city in need of COVID-19 goods like masks, respirators and intubation equipment, they were also in need of other non-COVID-19 critical supplies like medical connectors. Medical connectors hold thread for doctors performing suturing during heart surgery.


This device is used to hold thread in place while surgeons perform suturing during heart surgery. One of the non-COVID-19 related medical devices in short supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the global supply chain. (Image courtesy of Covid3D.org.)
This device is used to hold thread in place while surgeons perform suturing during heart surgery. One of the non-COVID-19 related medical devices in short supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the global supply chain. (Image courtesy of Covid3D.org.)


Though the medical supplies being printed by Covid3D do not have extremely complicated geometries, the quality and accuracy of the 3D printed parts must be guaranteed according to strict regulations for distribution to medical facilities.

Artec Space Spider. (Image courtesy of Artec.)
Artec Space Spider. (Image courtesy of Artec.)

To perform quality control analysis, Covid3D used the Artec Space Spider, a high-resolution 3D scanner, to check the accuracy of the 3D printed parts. The Artec Space Spider has a scanning speed of 7.5 frames per second (fps) and can capture 1 million data points per second. It is paired with Artec Studio software, doesn't need to be calibrated, and captures texture in resolutions of up to 1.3 megapixels and 24 bits per pixel of color. The Space Spider 3D scanner is typically used to scan intricate mechanical assemblies in reverse engineering operations.

At Covid3D, the Artec Space Spider ensured crucial submillimeter precision for the critical medical supplies 3D printed at the hospital. Its blue-light tech ensures that no edges are missed, and no medical parts with 3D printed layer-by-layer deformities make it past inspection.

Legal Hurdles

In a highly regulated industry like medicine, the urgency of demand for medical goods still takes a backseat to regulations necessary to ensure the safety of patients. But legislation was passed by European Commerce officials allowing the Covid3D team to continue to 3D print medical goods under strict guidelines to ensure quality.

Dr. Khonsari explained the process necessary to ensure quality. “First, we have to demonstrate that we have a shortage of the item, and that no other product is able to meet the same need.”

The 3D printed items are scanned by the Artec Space Spider to make sure that the geometry is precisely correct, but a separate set of quality control tests are performed to prove that each product can withstand sterilization, disinfection and other methods of cleaning without succumbing to damage that would invalidate them according to industry standards. 

The Covid3D.org printing facility in Port-Royal Abbey is printing large batches of 3D printed medical supplies and equipment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Image courtesy of Covid3D.org.)
The Covid3D.org printing facility in Port-Royal Abbey is printing large batches of 3D printed medical supplies and equipment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Image courtesy of COVID-19 3D.org.)

60 3D printers were set up in a historic building next to Cochin Hospital in Port-Royal Abbey. They manufacture different medical goods 24/7 in batches of 100 and are supervised by teams of five engineers in shifts. Each batch of 100 3D printed items is then scanned by the Artec Space Spider for quality assurance.

The medical goods are 3D printed from 3D scans of existing medical equipment or developed as 3D files from engineers using CAD software. The software Avizo is used to compare the 3D printed items and the 3D scans of medical goods fashioned using traditional manufacturing methodology.

Each 3D printed item in each batch of 100 is 3D scanned and compared to the 3D scan data of their traditionally manufactured counterpart. If any fail to measure up, the entire batch is discarded. For intubation equipment, CT scanning is used in concert with the Artec Space Spider to determine its viability.

Bottom Line

With legal hurdles passed, the 24/7 3D printing of badly needed medical goods can continue unabated. COVID-19 cases are leveling off and beginning to decrease in France, but the Covid3D team has proven that their experiment is a success, one that provides an important blueprint for future situations where the global supply chain of critical medical equipment is interrupted again.

Covid3D.org’s 3D printed goods delivered to recovering patients. (Image courtesy of Dr. Roman Khonsari / Instagram.)
Covid3D.org’s 3D printed goods delivered to recovering patients. (Image courtesy of Dr. Roman Khonsari / Instagram.)

But France and any other nation aren’t out of the woods with respect to COVID-19. Dr. Khonsari and the Covid3D team are prepared for a second wave of infections with a great model that others can follow to aid hospitals and medical facilities in times of crisis.

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