COVID-19: the 3D printing community responds to the pandemic
In recent years, we've seen 3D printing become more accessible than ever, and now this technology, which seemed reserved for high-tech conglomerates and spy movies, is proving its worth in the fight against the Coronavirus.
With the outbreak of the new coronavirus worldwide, medical supplies like face masks, respirators, and fans have become scarce, triggering action by the 3D printing community and its fans. From specialized masks to various breathing apparatuses, 3D printing is helping people think differently and share their designs for free in hopes that it will help reduce the infection rate.
Brian Andrew, CEO of RS Components in Sub-Saharan Africa, said there has been a significant increase in interest in 3D printers in recent years. "When commercial 3D printing first appeared on the scene, it was expensive and only a few people saw the potential of having a 3D printer. With advances in the design of these devices, 3D printers have become much more affordable, making this technology highly accessible. The 3D printing phenomenon has infiltrated almost every industry, helping to conceptualize, prototype, as well as the production of parts and components in small batches, "he said.
He also added that in the medical industry specifically, 3D printing is continuously used to improve the lives of patients and revolutionize surgeries for physicians worldwide. "If we look at the innovation that 3D printing has brought to the medical industry, we need only look at last year's groundbreaking surgical procedure using 3D printed middle ear bones, developed by Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team at the University of Pretoria (UP) in South Africa, which was world-famous news. The growing 3D printing community has shown that this technology is here to stay and that anyone with an idea can literally see their idea come to life. "
As the covid-19 outbreak spread across the world, we have seen countries implementing strict travel restrictions, work-from-home policies, and social distancing measures. Even the most developed countries are seeing their health systems overloaded and fatigued by COVID-19. In more severe cases, infected patients may require specialized ventilators to take over the role of the lungs. These fans are scarce along with masks and other preventive and safety equipment. This shortage of essential equipment has brought together design engineers and manufacturers in the 3D printing community who have already responded to the global crisis by offering their respective skills to ease the pressure on manufacturers, healthcare providers and governments.
A hospital in Brescia, Italy with 250 coronavirus patients requiring breathing machines recently ran out of the necessary respiratory valves to connect patients to the machines. The original provider was unable to meet the sudden high demand and the hospital quickly found itself in crisis. Quick to respond to the situation, Cristian Fracassi, CEO of Isinnova, a Brescia-based engineering company, used 3D printing to meet the hospital's demands, and consequently, the lives of patients were saved.
The CEO and his colleague, Alessandro Romaioli, initially visited the hospital directly to inspect the valves and quickly created a prototype. After successfully testing it on a patient, Isinnova partnered with local manufacturing company Lonati to mass-produce the valves. Lonati's 3D SLS printer along with Issinova's six internal 3D printers got down to business and the Italian duo managed to produce 100 breathing valves in 24 hours. The valves are currently being used in the Brescian hospital.