The COVID – 19 pandemic has wrecked havoc across countries. The virus has affected everyone across countries and the global economy is reeling as most countries are forced to lockdown their population. This has resulted in declining production, and a shortage of medical supplies, which are much needed in today’s conditions. Not only developing nations like India but also developed nations like U.S, U.K, and other European countries are facing a severe shortage of medical equipment needed to fight the Corona virus. Manufacturers across the world are trying hard to cope with the demand, and the 3D printing community is chipping in as much as they can to alleviate the issue.
Introduction to 3d printing
3D printing, technically known as Additive Manufacturing, covers multiple processes and technologies that offer a full spectrum of capabilities for the production of parts and products in different materials. Also referred to as 'rapid prototyping', 3D printing is a printing technology in which an object is printed layer by layer in an additive process. In contrast to traditional processes (like CNC) that chip away at unwanted material, 3D printing adds raw material layer by layer, resulting in minimum material wastage. 3D printing has also made it possible to create objects that no one earlier dreamed of printing, liberating innovative designers from the constraints of traditional printing and letting their creatively flow freely. From virtual to reality, these breakthroughs have paved the way to a whole new realm where creativity can no longer be hindered by technical limitations. There is a whole range of 3D printers available today in India - from authorised distributors like DesignTech Systems, Pune - for home use, for a hobbyist or for industrial purpose, and the trend of using 3D printers is gaining momentum not only in India but rest of the world as well. Because the 3D printing files are digital, they can be easily transmitted from one place to another, without loss of integrity and without any time delays. In the context of the current pandemic, this is a very important point – a good design can be made available worldwide the same day for 3D printing, saving precious time.
Which Medical Devices are needed
Coming back to the disruption in medical equipment supply caused by Corona virus, the devices that clinics and hospitals need today include face masks, swabs, ventilators, face shields, gowns, etc. In the absence of any vaccine, the medical profession is looking at these and other such life-sustaining devices and equipment to detect and help the affected. And this not only includes the patients, but the doctors and the medical staff themselves. In short, in this crisis, there is shortfall in supply for both the patient and the healthcare administrator.
So, where does 3D printing fit into all this?
With minimum wastage and maximum output, the 3D printing industry is uniquely poised to deliver medical manufacturing solutions that address the immediate lacunae formed by the current crisis. The 3D printing community has accepted the challenge to mitigate the disrupted medical devices supply-chain. From 3D printing enthusiasts to colleges, and from home 3D printers to reputed companies like Stratasys, HP and others, everyone is contributing in helping mankind. They are racing against time to design and build face masks, facial shields and even trying their hands at making ventilator parts in recent weeks.
As an example, Stratasys, leading manufacturers of 3D printers in the world, is working alongside our government officials, partners, customers, and medical community to connect the right people with the right resources. More details on their Corona crisis response webpage is available on how Stratasys as a company has come together in unprecedented ways to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medical practitioners and healthcare organizations can post their requirements for facial masks, nasal swabs, etc. on this webpage. Stratasys is working alongside government officials, partners, customers, and medical community to connect the right people with the right resources, appealing to all those who have the capacity to produce 3D printed medical devices. The company reviews, verifies and publishes the designs it receives. Most of the designs are free to use by the needy and can be re-distributed freely to anyone who needs them. The company has also ensured uninterrupted supply of essential raw material needed to manufacture these products, so that the supply chain will not be affected.
"The strengths of 3D printing – be anywhere, print virtually anything, adapt on the fly – make it a capability for helping address shortages of parts related to shields, masks, and ventilators, among other things," Stratasys CEO Yoav Zeif said in a statement. Calling additive manufacturing "an essential part" of the pandemic response, the CEO said Stratasys' workforce and partners "are prepared to work around the clock to meet the need for 3D printers, materials, including biocompatible materials, and 3D-printed parts.”
Universities, colleges and other 3D enthusiasts are working on improving existing device designs, and are suggesting innovative ways of manufacturing masks, nasal swabs, etc.In short, the entire 3D printing community has picked up the gauntlet to provide stop-gap solutions for the pandemic affected people.
A Word of Caution
While everyone is exploring the possibility of using 3D to fill the demand for masks, swabs, ventilators, etc. there are certain limitations to what 3D printing can really achieve.
One of the most trusted organizations in medical field is the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration. This is what they say about using 3D printing material to fight COVID - 19.
"The FDA continues to take creative and flexible approaches to address access to critical medical products in response to COVID-19. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for certain medical devices, including personal protective equipment (PPE), may outpace the supply available to health care organizations because of the high demand and overall interruptions to the global supply chain. We recognize that the public may seek to use 3D printing to assist in meeting demand for certain products during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of our effort to protect the public to the extent possible, we are including answers to frequently asked questions for entities who 3D print devices, accessories, components, and/or parts during the COVID-19 emergency."
The Bottom Line
The present pandemic has disrupted the world. While it’s long term economic and socio-psychological effects are still not understood, the immediate need of the hour is to provide adequate medical aid to the people. The 3D printing community is contributing its mite and lending a helping hand by experimenting with existing and innovative ways to produce medical devices needed currently.