3D printing technology has made a milestone amid the coronavirus outbreak. It saved not just one, not just two, but 10 lives and counting!
Coronavirus is a worldwide problem. The pandemic has affected thousands of lives. People went panic buying and there was a shortage of medical supplies including surgical masks and ventilators.
3D printing was able to bridge the gap by supplying what was needed at a very critical time. It enabled experts to create a 3D Venturi valve! Continue reading to see how the 3D printer saved lives.
3D Printing Valves for a Broken Ventilator
Ventilators or respirators are a key resource for treating respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 because they provide patients with oxygen when they can’t breathe on their own. On March 13, spare valves for the vital intensive care machine were running out at the Chairi hospital in the town of Iseo, in northern Italy’s Lombardy region.
Italy is severely impacted by coronavirus. It comes second to China where the disease originated with 23,073 active cases and 2,158 fatal cases. It has 2,749 recovered cases.
3D printing has played an important role in compensating the lack of supply of valves. Italian journalist Nunzia Vallini helped the hospital connect with Isisnnova chief executive Christian Fracassi after learning that the original supplier couldn’t supply them with new valves immediately.
After just three hours they came up with a prototype and immediately tested it and it worked. Fracassi and his colleague mechanical engineer Alessandro Romaioli returned to their office and started 3D printing new valves.
“They tested it on a patient and they told us that it worked well and so we ran again back to our office and we started to print new valves,” Romaioli told BBC News.
The pair worked with Lonati, another 3D printer company to meet the demand. They are working for free and have been sleepless, but they do not have plans to release the design.
“The valve has very thin holes and tubes, smaller than 0.8m – it’s not easy to print the pieces. Plus you have to respect not [contaminating] the product – really it should be produced in a clinical way,” Fracassi said.
A second hospital has reached out to Fracassi and Romaioli to request for more valves.
“We haven’t slept for two days. We’re trying to save lives,” he added.
The 3D-printer company was able to print 100 life-saving respirator valves in 24 hours. It also saved 10 coronavirus patients by producing a replacement for a broken ventilator just a few hours after the supplier fell short to provide it.
The 3D-printed version of the respirator valve costs less than €1 each to produce and the prototype only took three hours to design.
What You Need to Know about the 3D Printed Valve
The device that was 3D printed was the Venturi valve which is used for a Venturi Oxygen mask, a low-flow mask that uses the Bernoulli principle to entrain room air when pure oxygen is delivered through a small orifice, resulting in a large total flow at predictable FIO2.
Massimo Temporelli, founder of The FabLab in Milan, an active promoter of Industry 4.0 and 3D printing in Italy told Fast Company that Vallini with whom he has been collaborating for several years for the dissemination of Industry 4.0 culture in schools contacted him about the issue.
She said that a hospital in Chiari was running out of valves for reanimation devices and the suppliers couldn’t send replacements and the people were dying.
Temporelli reached out to Fracassi, a local engineer, headed the call and transported his own 3D printer in the hospital. They called the company 3M that produces the valve to ask for the 3D file, but the company refused to share it because of patent protection.
Fracassi contacted Michele Faini, an expert in 3D printing manufacturing and a research and development designer at Lonati SpA, a manufacturing company in Brescia. They have collaborated before, so they worked together to design the valves.
They modeled the piece by measuring the one they had in their hands and started 3D printing it. They reversed engineer the design themselves.
It was the first time Lonati SpA has printed something for the medical sector. Faini said that the company’s SLS 3D printers can print with PA12, a material that can be sanitized and used for biomedical purposes.
The first valves were 3D printed using a filament extrusion system at the hospital. More valves were later 3D printed Lonati SpA using a polymer laser powder bed fusion process and a custom polyamide-based material.
“We were ready to print the valves in a couple of hours, and the day after we had 100 valves printed,” Faini said.
What’s Next for the 3D Printed Valves?
Many 3D printer enthusiasts are willing to help 3D print the valve without charges. However, the.STL file is not yet available for the public. They are hoping that the file will be shared on the internet because the world needs it.
According to Carla, the people behind the 3D printed valve are testing the valve at the hospital and printed it with different materials. They will share the files and specs for printing when they are done because there are also tons of requests coming from all over Italy.
However, in a post on Facebook, Fracassi announced that they have no plans to make money from what they did and they will not be releasing the drawing of the valve they 3D printed.
“We have no intention of profit on this situation, we are not going to use the designs or product beyond the strict need for us forced to act, we are not going to spread the drawing,” Fracassi wrote.
“Finally, let us also say that certain figures we see turning are not true: we do not want to go into detail, because the cost of a piece is not that of the weight of a plastic pile: professional time come into play, costs of materials, energy etc. I mean, the cost is something complex, but let us keep the secret, and don’t know the right what the left does. We simply want this story to remain only one thing: the community, made of a hospital, a newspaper, a team of professionals, made a race against time and saved lives. That’s it. The rest – rights, certifications, costs and controversy – should shut up in the face of the undeniable superiority of the sacrosanct right to life.”
According to Davide Sher, the model for the valve remains covered by copyright and patents. However, hospitals may have the right to produce the parts in an emergency just as the case in Chiari. To legally obtain a 3D printable STL file, the hospitals that require the part need to present an official request.
Update: There is already a Venturi valve 3D printable model available at GrabCad community. The 3D model is available as a free download.
The file was shared by Filip Kober, CEO and engineering project lead at Kober Engineering. He was a junior mechanical engineer at Omni3D Industrial 3D printing in 2015. Kober said that testing for the device is ongoing all over the world including in the USA, Taiwan, Italy, and Canada.
3D printers have only proven what they can do in the field of medicine. They give us hope that with them, we have the power to create what we need at a faster speed and at a lower cost. Following the production of a working valve, some are already considering 3D printing protective gear, masks and other items that the suppliers can’t provide.
What can you say about the 3D printer’s latest accomplishment? Do you agree that we should start 3D printing supplies that run out of stock? Feel free to share your thoughts below!