The world wide lock down due to the corona virus situation has a few silver linings for the 3D printing industry. Over the last month there has been a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment(PPE) and other medical devices world wide, traditional supply chains that depended on Chinese manufacturing was now broken. 3D printing companies have stepped up their game and manufactured these devices and equipment locally creating a stop gap before larger industries could get going. We may never know the number of lives saved thanks to these 3D printers but we now know their importance in the world. I would like to share a few stories where 3D printing has helped make the world a better place during these trying times.
3D printed ventilator valve
If you have been glued to the news recently you will know that some critical equipment such as ventilators are in short supply around the world. The situation Italy was a lot worse, acute shortages led doctors to choose patients on the basis of which patient had a higher chance to survive. Within the ventilator system one key component known as the Venturi valve was creating a bottle neck, this critical component needed to be imported immediately but the global supply chain was broken and there was no way this patented piece f equipment would make it in time. Italian engineers decided to step in and remodel this device and manufacture it locally with help of 3D printers. They managed to 3D print the Venturi valve in one piece that also follows the medical guide lines and can be sterilized.
3D printed ventilator splitter
Another great method to increase ventilator capacity was to attach ventilator splitters. These devices convert a single outlet port into a multi-outlet port to accommodate a number of patients attached to a single ventilator. It should be noted that these work well when all patients connected to this system have a similar lung capacity, also this is a temporary approach and not for long term use. That being said in desperate situations when there are simply not enough ventilators these splitters have come to the rescue.
3D printed testing swabs
While ventilators have been saving lives of sick patients there has also been a shortage of testing kits due to the lock down. Early testing of an asymptomatic patient can help prevent thousands of new cases. The most important tool of the test kit is the Nasopharyngeal swab which collects a specimen form the inner parts of your nostrils. The swab needs to enter the nostril and proceed to the end of it until it meets the end of the air passage, most materials will not be able to bend to a sufficient degree without breaking. The team at Formlabs have worked with clinicians at Northwell health, USF health and Tampa general hospital to improve these products and make sure that they do not put patients at risk. With proper approval from health departments and FDA formlabs plans to ramp up production to 100,000 swabs per day.
Converting a scuba mask
Hospitals are short of alot of equipment and while many parts can be made locally as they do not have stringent norms others don’t. One such device that was again in short supply was the Non Invasive Ventilation masks that help ventilators pump air into the patients lungs. Engineers in Italy solved this problem by re-purposing snorkeling masks used by divers. By 3D printing custom adapters to hook up these masks to the ventilators the problem of short supply is now at bay. 3D printing has been able to bring the gap between two pieces of equipment that were not meant to work together. The ability to locally manufacture parts on demand has saved lives and created awareness of what is possible with 3D printers.
Simple 3D printed improvements
3D printing is not just a technology but its also a community and when the time comes to save the world from a pandemic so will the 3D printers. 3D printing community forums have been exploding with a variety of design and parts to help make our day to day activites a lot easier. A simple example would be the face mask holder. Wearing a face mask with an elastic around your ears can start getting painful after a few hours leaving cut marks and brusies behind your ears. Enter the 3D printed face mask holder, wearing face masks are now comfortable, with no injury to your delicate ears !. Another awesome yet simple design was the elbow door opener that made use of printed parts attached to a door handle in a way where your elbow could be used to open the door instead of your hand, why use your hand and risk getting infected. Instead use your elbows to open the door and stay safe !.
3D printed Face shields
Probably the most sought after and the most 3D printed item among the community is the Face shield. A simple plastic sheet and a 3D printed head band can come together and make a new protective equipment. There are thousands of design iterations to improve productivity of 3D printers and comfort for wearing. The face shield helps add an extra layer of safety above a mask and has also been recommended by many experts. Although 3D printing face shields started immediately on start of the virus, injection molding soon took over. 3D printing was able to create a stop gap in production and also help manufacturers test out different designs before going ahead with injection molding.
Hey, I hope you enjoyed reading about 3D printing during the pandemic do leave a comment if you came across a cool application of 3D printing.