3D Printing and COVID-19, April 14, 2020 Update


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Companies, organizations and individuals continue to attempt to lend support to the COVID-19 pandemic supply effort. We will be providing regular updates about these initiatives where necessary in an attempt to ensure that the 3D printing community is aware of what is being done, what can be done and what shouldn’t be done to provide coronavirus aid.

Powder bed fusion manufacturer EOS hosts LinkedIn group and an online platform, 3DAgainstCorona, to network AM providers and provide online resources for supply efforts during the coronavirus outbreak. Some of these resources include regulatory and research information—such as a study on the establishment of a simplified test facility for SARS-CoV-2 pandemic respirators—and an ongoing list of relevant projects pursued by the AM community.

The 3D printable hands-free door opener from EOS. Image courtesy of EOS.

The site also hosts 3D printable files that are first screened by internal staff before publishing in order to ensure the safety and viability of the items. These files so far include hands-free door openers, face shields, and Isinnova’s adapter for converting a snorkel mask into an emergency CPAP mask, for which EOS participated in the development process.

EOS’s history in 3D printing medical devices lends some credibility to the Isinnova mask, but the device has yet to receive emergency regulatory approval. Whereas the snorkel-based Pneumask, being developed by Stanford engineers and others, is meant to act as an emergency N95-style respirator face mask, the Isinnova device is meant to be a CPAP mask, which is a completely different category for a different application.

Meanwhile, Materialise has developed a PEEP mask for emergency breathing assistance so that true ventilators can be reserved for critical patients. Whereas this mask operates along similar principles as the Isinnova device, providing positive pressure and a flow of oxygen, it is currently being fast-tracked through the regulatory process and, therefore, suggests a greater degree of safety and viability.

Adapters to convert a BiPAP machine into an emergency ventilator. Image courtesy of Northwell Health.

Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider, is using 3D printing to convert a Philips Respironics V60 BiPAP machine into a pressure-controlled ventilator for non-critical patients and, thus, free up true ventilators for those who need them. The key to the process is 3D printing a T-shaped adapter, which the hospital believes it can produce at a rate of 150 per day. We’ve reached out to the team for an update on the progress of this project.

A team of engineers, product designers, and healthcare workers from Helpful Engineering is developing what it has dubbed the Automatic Respiration Management Exclusively for Emergencies (ARMEE) ventilator based off of a 1965 design by the U.S. Army.  Running on pressurized air and featuring no moving parts or electronics, the device is made up of two plastic plates that are meant to time and regulate the inhalation/exhalation cycle for a larger ventilation system. Three calibration screws are used to set the inhale-exhale ratio which then allows the device to run automatically. The prototype ARMEE device is 3D printed, but its developers believe it could be injection molded at a rate of over 10,000 units daily. Designer Warren Koch has launched a fundraiser to raise money for the testing of the device.

Other firms are working directly with ventilator companies to fulfill part needs. Protolabs has used stereolithography to 3D print 3,000 ventilator parts for an original equipment manufacturer. In response to a request from the U.K. government, Renishaw is using CNC machining to make ventilator components for two different ventilators manufactured by the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium for Penlon Ltd and Smiths Medical. The consortium is aiming to extend the combined capacity of Penlon and Smiths beyond its typical 50 to 60 ventilators weekly to at least 1,500 units a week.

To provide a more detailed breakdown of the difference between these various ventilation devices, we will be speaking to experts in the field and will follow up in a subsequent post. Less concerning devices include the now-standard face shield that many AM providers and hobbyists are now manufacturing on a regular basis. 3D printing service bureau Forecast 3D, a GKN subsidiary, is 3D printing face shields, stopgap masks, nasopharyngeal swabs, and other items in partnership with HP and medical device companies.

Stopgap Masks 3D printed by Forecast 3D.

Ricoh is also producing face shields to the tune of 40,000 weekly, though it will rely primarily on its injection molding equipment. 3D printing service bureau Fast Radius is aiming to make 10,000 face shields at its facilities using HP Multi Jet Fusion systems. A cynical interpretation of the collective face shield manufacturing efforts would be that service bureaus are competing to demonstrate their manufacturing capacity in the midst of a global public health crisis, but the demand for face shields is real, according to medical professionals. That doesn’t mean that producing these devices can’t have a dual purpose.

As the pandemic continues to grip the world, we will continue to provide regular updates about what the 3D printing community is doing in response. As always, it is important to keep safety in mindremain critical about the potential marketing and financial interests behind seemingly good humanitarian efforts from businesses, and to do no harm.

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