How 3D Printing is Helping in the Battle Against COVID-19
3D printing has become something of a novelty these past few years, especially when it comes to its uses in medicine. In fact, a couple of years back, we talked about the advancements in 3D printing for medical technology, such as bio-printing and molded prosthetics. 3D printers make use of metal core PCBs, which give them greater structural integrity and allow for proper thermal dissipation. This prevents overheating and other common problems associated with high-volume production, enabling the technology to create virtually any type of object. The limitation, of course, is in the material choice: materials used for 3D printing must not be susceptible to damage by high temperatures.
Today, 3D printing in the industry has become more prevalent than ever. Indeed, according to last year’s forecasts, 3D printing in the medical field will be worth $3.5 billion by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 17.7%. However, these testing times has led to a far more rapid adoption, potentially increasing these numbers by the end of 2020. Let’s take a look at how 3D printing has helped in our battle against COVID-19.
Mass Producing Oxygen Valves
Early in the battle against COVID-19, it was Italy that suffered the brunt of the virus. In March, Italy had the highest fatality rate in the world—5% when the global average was at 3.4%—with more than 3,000 cases every day. Hospitals could barely keep up and were running out of respiratory valves needed to connect COVID-19 patients to ventilators. Thankfully Isinnova, an Italian tech startup firm, massproduced the vales using 3D printing. Overtime this helped improve the country’s recovery rates as more hospitals could get the equipment they needed.
Creating Cheaper Ventilators
It’s not just fully functioning oxygen valves that 3D printing is capable of making. The University of Michigan recently partnered up with 3D printing service provider Protolabs to develop critical components for a low-cost ventilators. Hospital-grade ventilators can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, which is why researchers believe that their 3D printed ventilators can save more lives. Called the Coventor, it’s only costs $1,000 per device.
Procuring Face Shields
Among all medical supplies, face shields are easily some of the simplest to make. You don’t need entire factories and they can be created by anyone with a 3D printer at home and some clear plastic. Institutions like Columbia University have procured thousands of face shields this way. They have distributed them to over 50 establishments, including hospitals and other frontline facilities. ANYCUBIC, a 3D printing manufacturer from China, has even shared a DIY 3D printed face shield tutorial for homeowners who have 3D printers.
Keeping Up the Demand for Nasal Swabs
Between rapid testing and contact tracing, manufacturers of COVID-19 test kits have to procure hundreds of thousands at a time to keep up with the demand. Of course, there are only so many factories that can do the job. 3D printing technology developer Formlabs have converted 250 printers in their Ohio factory to make up to 100,000 nasal swabs for testing every day. They’re shipped across the country—reaching hospitals like the General Hospital in Florida who are accommodating thousands of COVID-19 patients every day. They’ve also publicly released the design so that more tests can be made.
In such testing times, we need all the help we can get. Fortunately, we have a friend in modern technology. As the virus depletes hospitals of equipment, PPEs, and other key medical supplies, 3D printing manufacturers have stepped up to meet the demand.