The pandemic did not only take lives of people, but also showed how industries need to stay equipped with items that are required to save lives. The pandemic period has given a new dimension to the 3D industry by helping healthcare workers and hospitals with 3D PPE to bring down the shortage during emergency.
The emergence of COVID-19 created global health crises in the form of shortage of medical equipment. Along with social distancing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the major protective measure taken globally. However, there was a huge shortage of PPE, pushing health line workers and patients in danger. Doctors in Australia were seen lined up in front of hardware store to buy good quality PPE. Similar situations were seen in countries like US, UK and others where the pandemic cases were in rampage. This brought big manufacturers, institutes and 3D experts to come together and counter the problem of PPE shortage.
Additive manufacturing industry played a major role in countering this PPE shortage problem. For instance, in March 2020, when the COVID-19 cases were in peak, the CEO of an Italian 3D- printing startup learned that the local hospital in Italy was facing the shortage of valves- that connect respirators to oxygen masks. The company that deals with valves couldn’t meet the demand.
“When we heard about the shortage, we got in touch with the hospital immediately. We printed some prototypes. The hospital tested them and told us they worked,” the CEO, Cristian Fracassi, told Reuters. “So we printed 100 valves, and I delivered them personally.”
After first valves were printed 3D using the filament extrusion system, more valves were later 3D printed by a local company Lonati SpA, by using polymer laser powder bed fusion process.
By further exploring the 3D printing role in creating PPE, Sandvik Coromant, metal cutting specialist developed a 3D modeling technique that can produce 200 plastic face shield compared to the traditional method. However, there were concerns about the time taken by the 3D printers because they are restricted to printing one CAD file at a time. To overcome this problem, Sandvik Coromant came up with a new modeling process allowing machines to recognize the stack of multiple face shields. Engineers can instruct to create structural support between each product using dual extruder.
According to the company, it manufactured around 42 plastic face shields per 3D printer in its each production batch.
Christian Dingfors, production engineer at Sandvik Coromant Press Tools, commented: “Printing several parts at a time is the optimal method for producing a high volume of face shields when using a 3D printer. In the ongoing effort to support healthcare workers against Covid-19, we need to contribute to the production of PPE as effectively as possible. That is why Sandvik Coromant wants to share this technique and the necessary imaging data with as many businesses as possible. We want every facility with 3D printing capacity to get involved.
3D printing going beyond certain sector
Until now, 3D printing was limited to designing houses, complex structure and other areas. It was fringed from manufacturing and health care sectors. However, COVID-19 pushed 3D printing to become a crucial resource. For instance, Isinnova, a 3D printing company developed 3D printed adapter to turn snorkeling mask into non-invasive ventilator for the COVID-19 patients’ treatment purpose.
The company join hands with Decathlon, the French firm producing snorkeling masks. The new part which was created after dismantling was named Charlotte valve. The product was tested at the Chiari Hospital, and was successful.
Isinnova immediately patented the Charlotte Valve to prevent any pricing issues. The patent will remain free to use because it is in our intention that all hospitals in need could use it if necessary,” Isinnova stated in its press release. Healthcare facilities will be able to purchase the Decathlon mask and then local 3D printing facilities can produce the part. “Our initiative is totally non-profit, we will not obtain any royalties on the idea of the link, nor on the sales of Decathlon masks,” the Isinnova founders clarified.
The production of 3D printing N95 Mask
Some of the top 3D printing companies were successful in developing 3D N95 Mask for comfortable protection against COVID-19 that can reduce the impact of single-use masks. Abu Dhabi’s NYU Anthony Tzes developed an eco-friendly 3D printed face mask completely following the N95 specifications.
During the pandemic period, N95 Masks were in huge demand, like the PPE. However, hospitals faced a huge shortage of this protective equipment. Looking at this demand NYU provided 3D printed N95 mask to meet the need of safety and sustainability. This PPE is protective, comfortable and is completely reusable. The mask is made up of tough Polylactic Acid, a biocompatible material that bio-degrades into Lactic Acid (LA).
Tzes explained, “The mask is environmentally friendly because you can reuse them, but it is also friendly to humans, meaning it will not cause itching or irritation. I think it is the responsibility of people to step in and do what they can. I stopped my projects to do this. I could use the 3D printers to do something else but I told my postdocs to stop and think and to start generating masks. Let’s hope this ends soon but in the meantime, we must work together.”
3D-Printed Mask Shields
3D printed mask shields are designed to cover the N95 mask and extending its life. By covering, it brings down the exposure of the mask to contamination during the pandemic period. One of the benefits of using additive manufacturing method is the speed up of producing the finished product. Overall, additive manufacturing companies require 40 minutes to prepare single shield.
Medically Validated Leitat 1 Respirator using 3D printing
HP, Seat, Navantia and Airbus along with Zana Franca Consortium and Leitat Technology Center worked together to develop production-ready respirator. In many countries that are hit hard by Covid-19 faced huge shortage of respiration equipment, used the respirator made by 3D printing. The Leitat 1 was successfully tested in many hospitals and clinics across Barcelona and Parc Tauli.
Stratasys, on other hand printed more than 5000 full-face shields under its PPE production. The 3D printer manufacturer in the month of March 2020, produced face shields carrying 3D printed frame and transparent plastic shield providing complete protection to healthcare workers.
Stratasys CEO Yoav Zeif said. “Our workforce and partners are prepared to work around the clock.” The project was initiated after Stratasys learned from a leading hospital that in pre-COVID-19 times over 1,500 disposable face masks were used weekly. Due to increased pressure on resources, the hospital now has inventory for six days.”
He further said, “We are humbled by the opportunity to help. We see additive manufacturing as an essential part of the response to the COVID-19 global epidemic,” said Stratasys CEO Yoav Zeif. “The strengths of 3D printing – be anywhere, print virtually anything, adapt on the fly – make it a capability for helping address shortages of parts related to shields, masks, and ventilators, among other things. Our workforce and partners are prepared to work around the clock to meet the need for 3D printers, materials, including biocompatible materials, and 3D-printed parts.”
iMakr, a leading 3D printing reseller worked hard on building 3D printing farm in New York. It delivered hundreds of 3D printed face shields to St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.
3D printing technology presented huge potential in playing a vital role during the global crises to fulfill the supply gap of PPE and other essential items to safeguard patients and healthcare workers. During this, both FDA and NIH came together to release guidance in making 3D printed masks and shields. Not just during the pandemic, even now and future, 3D printing companies will play a major role in helping healthcare workers and industry to safeguard against any such pandemic.