COVID-19 ISO Insights

How is 3D Printing Assisting with Medical Equipment Shortages?

April 6, 2020

By: David Geller, CPCU

While various supply chain issues are reportedly causing issues for a wide range of industries, the inability for hospitals to procure the appropriate equipment could have the most harrowing impacts.

Nevertheless in a technologically driven world, it appears one solution has displayed some viability to compensate for these disruptions: 3D Printing.

3D Printing, or additive manufacturing, is generally a production technology that can produce actual components, parts, and products from a digital image blueprint. And across the globe, reports are emerging that 3D Printing technology is being used to develop components that are vital for the production of crucial medical equipment.

For example, a couple that produces and sells 3D printers in upstate New York, according to Syracuse.com, used their printers to build face shields for workers at a coronavirus testing site. The article notes that it takes the couple merely $8 worth of materials to produce one face shield, and that it only took them one day to master the process and begin delivering the shields to the county.

A subsequent Syracuse.com report notes that the couple proceeded to post the template and instructions so others can create these face shields as well. As of March 24th, 3,045 people across the world had reportedly downloaded these instructions.

A story out of Northern Italy, which has reportedly been besieged by COVID-19, also demonstrated how 3D Printers served to provide important medical equipment. In March, the 3D Printing Media Network reported that, when a hospital in Northern Italy was unable to obtain a replacement valve for a reanimation device due to a shortage with a supplier, a founder/CEO of a 3D Printing company was able to design the component in a few hours.

Additionally, TechCrunch has reported on an open-source hardware project that originally focused on producing ventilators with 3D-printed parts and other inexpensive material, and has now expanded their focus to build out other vital equipment, such as protective gear (masks, protective face guards, etc.).

TechCrunch has also reported that a U.S.-based 3D printing company will soon be printing about 10,000 COVID-19 test kit swabs—a component of the kit reportedly in short supply—using its 60,000 printers once it receives an exemption from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is reportedly expected soon.

For even more updates on companies engaging in 3D Printing, read this MIT Technology Review article here.

3D Printing appears to have proven to be a responsive and flexible solution when options are limited. But risks may need to be considered. For instance, the 3D Printing Media Network notes that copyright and medical issues should be contemplated with respect to 3D Printing any medical product. Also, it may be worth monitoring if this 3D Printed equipment will consistently perform up to the standards that conventionally built products provide. Lastly, in an interview with MIT News, a professor of mechanical engineering expressed concern about the sterilization of 3D printed parts that are used in a clinical setting.