As we know, the coronavirus outbreak has created huge demand for medical supplies, from ventilators to gloves to test kits, and the engineers and manufacturers of the world are thinking about how to harness their capabilities and production lines to meet those needs.
Forbes recently noted that few are better placed to answer the call to action than manufacturers with 3D-printing capabilities. As a technology that can produce parts at scale in multiple locations at one time, and go from design to production in a day, it is, in some ways, designed for a crisis like this.
In the US 3D-printing unicorn Carbon identified two types of products in short supply that their technology could help restock - personal protective equipment and test swabs.
In the past weeks, working from remote locations, Carbon designers 3D-printed face shields prototypes in conjunction with Verily (the Alphabet company behind the COVID-19 online screening website Project Baseline) and started working on 3D-printed test swabs. All but one of the designs passed patient testing at Stanford and Beth Israel hospitals.
It was great to see, on RTE News last week, that a small start-up 3D printing company in Galway has offered to supply medical components to hospitals if they are experiencing shortages. Galway Technology Ltd is following the example of a company in Italy who stepped in to help hospitals when they ran short of valves. Husband and wife team James Wall and Jacqui O'Connor combined their bio-medical engineering skills to set up MedScan3D which produces 3D printed models for the healthcare sector.
Mr. Wall said they just needed samples of items in order to scan and create a file ready for printing. For example, he said the company could print eight small respirator parts in 70 minutes. That is 164 a day and 1,100 a week. He said the company was at the ready if supplies run short.
As well as aiding patients they can supply visors and goggles to frontline staff in need of protection. They can also support engineers making medical devices who need components urgently but are unable to manufacture themselves due to high demand. The company will seek to cover their costs, which will be kept to a minimum, but are offering their services on a not-for-profit basis.
In the UK, James Dyson has used his experience and skills to design and build an entirely new ventilator, called the CoVent, to address the specific needs of coronavirus patients. The new device, which will be ready in early April, can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume. The UK government has ordered 10,000 ventilators from Dyson to support efforts by the NHS to treat coronavirus patients.
These are fantastic examples that demonstrate how companies and individuals are collaborating, using relevant experience and cross-over technology to create new products in a time of crisis. Established processes and approaches are being reinvented to enable new designs to be produced at speed.
Hopefully these new ways of collaborating and working will be adopted by many more companies and individuals in the future as they continue to innovate in the interests of humankind.