How 3D Printing is Contributing to COVID-19 Relief

The rapid spread of Coronavirus across the world has meant that healthcare facilities have quickly become overloaded and are experiencing a severe deficit in necessary equipment and supplies. Many members of the 3D printing community have set to work producing protective wear for medical personnel, as well as anti-contamination accessories and more. Though not everything can be fully 3D printed due to FDA regulations and the complexity of medical equipment, 3D printing offers a fast prototyping and production process so that it may step in where traditional manufacturing falls short.

1. Valves & Ventilator Parts

As Coronavirus cases in hospitals grew, valves and other ventilator parts quickly ran out. In Italy, after the supply of Venturi valves disappeared and the original manufacturer was unable to produce more fast enough, they turned to 3D printing. A local startup, Issinova, was able to produce working parts in 24 hours . The valves were first printed using a filament extrusion system at the hospital, and were later printed using a polymer laser powder bed fusion process and a custom polyamide based material.

2. Snorkeling Mask Ventilator

Issinova also successfully tested a 3D printed adapter part printed from Nylon PA11 and PA12 to turn a commercial snorkeling mask into an emergency non-invasive respirator . Though the mask is not certified as a medical device, it has still been helpful as a last resort or in areas where other equipment is scarce.

3. Face Shields

Selvin, registered nurse, wearing a face shield 3d printed by Shapeways

Many companies like Shapeways have been contributing to the production of face shields to help supply hospitals with PPE. Shapeways’ face shields are modified versions of the Prusa design and are printed using SLS technology with medical grade materials so that they may be disinfected for repeat use. Learn more about Shapeways’ Sponsor A Face Shield program.

4. Test Swabs

The ability to test people for Coronavirus is a crucial tool in slowing down the spread and identifying asymptomatic people. Nasal swabs are typically produced using injection molding and flocking, with a piece of polyester material attached to a plastic rod. Because traditional swabs have an intentional weak point that allows them to break to fit into the vial for transport to a lab, one challenge in printing them is making sure the material used is strong enough to collect a substantial enough sample from a patient’s nose without breaking while also being able to fit into the vial. Many parties are working on developing successful designs for swabs and are able to prototype quickly, even producing as many as 50 prototypes in 36 hours . Swabs can be printed in a material that is autoclavable, which would make them reusable. Shapeways is currently working on our own swabs as well.

5. Face Masks