3D printing enables swift response to Covid-19 amid disruptions

Amid worldwide disruptions in supply chains due to Covid-19 restrictions, the 3D printing technology has enabled on demand solutions for needs ranging from personal protection equipment to medical devices and isolation wards, say researchers.

The researchers examined how the digital versatility and quick prototyping of 3D printing has enabled the rapid mobilisation of the technology and a swift response to emergencies in a closed loop economy.

“The agility and precision of 3D printing has allowed for innovative solutions amidst the supply chain pressures that we are facing globally,” said Professor Chua Chee Kai from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

“This has resulted in rapidly deployable built environment, healthcare medical devices and training tools which have been crucial in the fight to save lives and contain this virus,” said the professor who is also the corresponding author of an article published in the journal Nature Reviews Materials.

The researchers from SUTD, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and HP Inc explained how 3D printing has enabled product customisation, complex designs and on-demand manufacturing using any decentralised 3D printing facility in the world by leveraging designs shared online.

This has led to the broad spectrum of 3D printing applications in the fight against Covid-19 including the printing of personal protective equipment, medical and testing devices, personal accessories, visualisation aids, and emergency dwellings.

For instance, due to severe shortages of ventilator machines, continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) machines were used as substitutes for Covid-19 patients who require sub-intensive therapy.

An Italian engineering company, Isinnova, came up with a 3D printable mask connector design, the Charlotte valve, was produced and it was specially designed to fit and connect Decathlon’s Easybreath snorkelling masks to CPAP machines, the researchers noted.

The 3D printing technology also served as an alternative and more efficient manufacturing option to keep up with the demand for nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs.

The 3D-printed NP swabs were fabricated with complex tip structures for enhanced sample collection efficacy, hence eliminating the need to apply flocks at the tips.

Separately, 3D printing has even been used to fabricate temporary emergency dwellings to isolate those under quarantine, relieving the overloaded medical infrastructures, said the study.

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