3D printing, the great ally in critical sectors such as in the healthcare

3D printing is becoming a great ally in those sectors that need essential materials or pieces to fight against the coronavirus, especially in critical fields such as the health industry, in order to do it quickly and with high quality. 

Technology is an essential tool to carry out our current duties due to the sudden outbreak of this lethal virus. In this unprecedented lockdown, we can still be in contact with our loved ones, we can have many leisure options and we can avoid an economy collapse while telecommuting. What is more, outside home, technology is a fundamental weapon against the invisible enemy. Big data and apps to monitor and prevent contagion, artificial intelligence to sequence the virus genome and 3D printing of essential objects such as respirators are some of the emergency solutions it has provided. 

3D printing for medical purposes has experienced a special boost due to the coronavirus crisis. According to a report, it is an “almost-develop” technology that has been growing progressively over the last decade. But this health crisis has brought a revolution in the sector, with the proliferation of initiatives by individuals as well as national and international companies in the medical sector and other areas to alleviate the lack of sanitary materials and instruments such as face masks or respirators. 

3D printing is becoming the great ally of all those sectors that need essential materials or pieces to fight the coronavirus, especially in areas as critical as healthcare, and to be able to do so quickly and with high quality. 

The Vice-Chairman of the General Council of Professional Colleges of Computer Engineering, Juan Pablo Peñarrubia, has explained that the main advantage of the use of 3D printing is the ease of developing prototypes of all kinds quickly and “passing immediately from the creative idea, to see and touch a product”. 

The only difference between printed and traditionally manufactured products is that the former is conditioned by the material they are composed of, but their quality and cost is more than ‘satisfactory’, he added. 

For Peñarrubia, this situation can be a lever to “accelerate the capacity for innovation and competitiveness of all companies”. 

In this regard, HP and its digital manufacturing partners have opened their 3D part design files to the public so that other innovators can join with their projects to accelerate the production of critical parts to tackle coronavirus. 

Helping the health care community

The goal is to help the global health community by manufacturing parts that meet the right quality and safety standards, according to HP sources. 

Some of the first applications of this network of partners that are being validated are hands-free door openers, which allows for easy elbow opening, mask adjusters or face protectors. 

3D printing is fundamental due to its special usefulness in the creation of protective equipment against COVID-19, when used for the manufacture of materials that are scarce today such as face masks, mechanical respirators and even door openers, among others. 

In this line HP, in coordination with different governments, healthcare and industrial agencies around the world, they are collaborating to identify the most need parts, validate designs, and start the 3D printing. 

In fact, the company has already manufactured more than a thousand 3D printed pieces that it has delivered to different hospitals. In addition, their 3D R&D centres in Barcelona, as well as those in other cities around the world, are collaborating to increase production and meet the most urgent needs. 

In Spain, other companies that have 3D printers have decided to manufacture sanitary material. 

Hence, in Valencia, 6 companies belonging to the Valencian Association of Automotive Industries (AVIA, Asociación Valenciana de Industrias de la Automoción) -DID Automation, Mipesa, Tetra Proyectos, Somtech, CLR and SRG Global – have offered their facilities and production lines to manufacture respirators and sanitary material through 3D printers. 

In Barcelona, a group of companies, design studies, engineers and computer scientists from the Conca d’Adena have been organized to produce useful pieces for hospitals and health centres in the lockdown areas by the coronavirus outbreak in the Hospital of Igualada. 

In Madrid, the citizens’ initiative “Coronavirus Makers” has emerged, in which volunteers from all over Spain have set out to apply 3D technology to manufacture protective equipment and sanitary equipment with which to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. 

In Murcia, the “Makers of Murcia” Association is making glasses on this type of printers and, in León, the company “León 3D” has donated to the City Council of San Andrés del Rabanedo 36 face masks that the company has manufactured. 

British manufacturer Photocentric, which specializes in 3D resin printing, has announced that it had 3D printed hundreds of breathing apparatus valves during one night. It aims to create a large number and so respond to an urgent need in hospitals around the world facing COVID-19. So far, these valves have not been medically validated: the company is in the process. What’s interesting about this is the ability they’ve achieved to create 600 3D valves during one night with 3 Liquid Crystal machines. If it keeps the same rate, Photocentric could design more than 40,000 devices per week! 

The additive manufacturing community is mobilizing and has demonstrated through many examples that it can help respond to the health crisis. The problem is offering medically approved 3D models and devices. Many manufacturers and professionals have shared STL files to print 3D masks, for example. But are they really a safe alternative for our medical workers and patients? What is certain is that additive manufacturing can be a solution in a logistical crisis and to repair the broken supply chains. Once medical validation has been obtained, all kinds of 3D tools can be printed on demand for health facilities. 

Photocentric wanted to show that it could also offer quantity: the manufacturer used 3 types of Liquid Crystal machines: The Magna, the Titan and the Maximus. In this way, it optimized the design of its valves to the maximum to produce as much as possible in a single source. 3D printers would have produced 104, 171 and 220 valves respectively. About the timing, it took 8 hours on the Magna, 11 on the Titan and 9 hours on the Maximus. Photocentric says: “We printed more than 600 valves overnight on three machines. All have a 1 mm open internal hole and, after further treatment, they were dry, shiny and hard. We could produce more than 40,000 valves each week using existing Liquid Crystal printers in our offices, working 5 days a week, printing during the whole day”

The company says its 3D printing materials are undergoing cytotoxicity and skin sensitization tests by Covance. These should take about 4 days. Unlike FDM, photocuring achieves a high enough resolution and a smooth surface to prevent bacterial growth. The problem with stereo lithography processes is that they generally offer cationic resins based on oxetane, which are very hygroscopic and therefore, impossible to use in the medical sector. That’s why Photocentric offers a different chemistry, which meets medical requirements and needs. The manufacturer would have added an antimicrobial agent to the formulation, to make the material safer. 

All these initiatives make that so far, we attempt to improve what we’re going through, thanks to these companies, freelancers, etc., we’re going forward. These acts of solidarity make us see the light in the dark. Hence, we can’t stop fighting or being socially responsible. During these difficult times we have seen the best out of many people, we have to keep it that way, until we can say we have isolated the virus. 

Sources:  La Opinión de Murcia, 3D NativesEl PaísAlimarket 

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