2020 has already been a bruising year due to the unforeseen implications of COVID-19 and its interference across the global supply chain. In addition to the rising fear of losing our loved ones, the economy has been hard hit as a result of limitations on traditional production and imports. Specifically, the health care industry is suffering at the frontline as the virus continues to spread, and supplies run out, while those treating the disease become infected in the process.
The question remains as to how intensive care and oxygenation will be supplied when the demand is significantly higher. In truth, this virus has quickly caused a global realization that the medical supply is inadequate to meet the extremely complex standards this infection disease requires. Now, it has become a mission to ensure there are as many working reanimation devices as possible to save lives, and 3D Printing is becoming an unexpected hero.
There is still hope! These trying times are forcefully promoting the innovation of life-sustaining technology. A breakthrough recently occurred in Brescia, Italy, one of the hardest-hit regions for COVID-19 infections. There was a significant limitation from medical suppliers that could not provide urgently needed valves used for the Venturi Oxygen Mask.
The race for time rapidly began as there were little to no valves left, leaving many facing the risk of death. Just when all hope was lost, Massimo Temporelli, the founder of Fablab in Milan, helped direct the facilitation of 3D Printing to the hospital in Brescia, redesigning and producing pieces in a matter of hours. Temporelli could not have done it without the help of Founder & CEO of Isinnova, Cristian Fracassi, who responded to her call for help and brought a 3D printer to the hospital.
As of March 14th, ten patients have already become successfully accompanied in breathing by a device that uses a 3D printed valve. The following day, a local firm had already recreated these 3D valves using a polymer laser powder bed fusion process and a custom polyamide-based material. This success has brought great hope with local and global 3D printing service companies, who continue reaching out in support of producing these parts.
The underlying issue is that the model for the Venturi Valve is covered in copyrights and patents, preventing the legal obtainment of a 3D printable STL file. The production of this valve also requires a high-end powder bed fusion machine to produce parts that have the necessary accuracy and complexity. For the time being, this file remains unshared unless a “life versus death” crisis presents itself. One other hospital in Italy was reported to immediately require 100 Venturi Valves, of which all valves were satisfied in the first production batch. The only reason this hospital was able to outsource its supplies was that the official manufacturer was unable to produce this equipment in time. When it comes to urgently needed supplies, hospitals are at a standstill as they determine whether they will need to follow in the same direction.
As the virus continues to spread worldwide and break supply chains, the ingenuity and design abilities of others, as well as 3D Printing, continue to rise to the occasion. It is exciting to see how the technology community is coming together to deliver innovative solutions to this global pandemic and turning lemons into lemonade.
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