3D Printing and COVID-19, May 6, 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.

There are numerous efforts underway to quickly create low-cost respirators in order to deal with supply shortages in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. They range from more questionable efforts by hobbyists to public relations campaigns by large corporations and several viable solutions, including a device made by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The latest publicized effort, that might fall into categories two and three mentioned above, is ventilator made by Nvidia’s chief scientist, Billy Dally, who published an open source design for what is meant to be a cheap and easy-to-build ventilator. The machine is said to regulate air pressure, flow and volume, which overcomes some of the issues with other, more dangerous emergency ventilators that don’t regulate pressure.

The ventilator is driven by a microcontroller that regulates air flow through the use of a proportional solenoid valve, using an electromagnet to squeeze the valve open and shut. The machine is made up of parts that total $400 in cost; however, Dally hopes to bring the cost down even lower to $100. The valves and sensors took six weeks to get to Dally, but many of the parts can be 3D-printed, according to Dally. The main components of the device can be assembled in about five minutes. Dally is in the process of seeking Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Materialise has designed a bracket that allows for the use of perfectly functional N95/FFP2 masks that otherwise might be discarded because they don’t fit well on a wearer’s face. The 3D-printed bracket shapes the mask so that it matches the contours of the wearer better. Additionally, the brackets can be easily disinfected multiple times, allowing them to be used with multiple new filters. This means that up to three million rejected masks can still be used, according to Materialise.

3D printed mask fitters from Materialise. Images courtesy of Materialise.

Adapted masks have already been tested by Belgium’s occupational health service, IDEWE, which demonstrated that they meet the necessary standards for safe use by healthcare providers. UZ Leuven hospital has already begun using the brackets with previously rejected respirators. This is the latest in Materialise’s additive design and production efforts, which also includes a non-invasive oxygen mask that is also being used at UZ Leuven.

Numerous groups continue to produce face shields for frontline workers using 3D printing. Solid Solutions and Solid Print3D have a group of over 300 customers who have made more than 10,500 face shields for workers at hospitals and nursing in the UK and Ireland. As a part of Canada’s Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) manufacturing network, Burloak Technologies and Mosaic have been making face shields. Mosaic has produced 45,00 face shields in the course of three months. NGen has provided over $21 million to support manufacturers fabricating medical supplies needed for the pandemic. At Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, volunteers led by Assistant Professor of Biology Courtney Guenther and Fine Arts Instructor Andrew Davis are also making face shields. The group is using desktop 3D printers at the school’s CreatorSpace.

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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