New coronaviruses are sweeping the world, and when front-line staff and hospitals struggle to fight against the virus, the medical equipment needed cannot keep up with the spread of the virus. It takes a certain period of time for medical equipment to be manufactured and put into use, so people think of 3D printing technology. Has the development of 3D printing for some years really become a new hope?
In recent weeks, many multinational companies, local companies and major colleges, and even 3D printing individual enthusiasts have joined together to form a large printing team. They gathered together to make use of 3D printers to make protective masks, masks, pharyngeal swabs and even parts of ventilators needed to fight against the epidemic, to fill the gap in the shortage of medical supplies.
Ramon Pastor, HP ’s acting president in charge of 3D printing and digital manufacturing, said: “The response of 3D printing technology is actually very fast. It takes time from conception, design, prototyping to production. Very short. For the same process, traditional manufacturers may take days or even weeks to produce. "
The list of products that can use 3D printing also proves that 3D printing technology has the potential to alleviate the medical supply crisis. In the past two months, HP alone has produced more than 50,000 products at its print centers in the United States and Spain and distributed them to the hospitals it needs.
In addition to the protective masks and masks just needed, in order to prevent bacteria from being touched by hands, HP has made door handles that can be opened and closed with an elbow. In addition, HP is also developing pharyngeal swabs that can be used to test viruses, as well as outdoor first-aid ventilators made of 3D printed parts, and these devices will be put into production after passing tests in the next few weeks.
The movement of privately-made medical equipment is booming, but 3D printing technology is still far from being able to fill the vacancy of medical equipment.
Although some hospitals have begun to use 3D printed products to increase their supply inventory, for certain critical medical equipment, such as ventilators, etc., there are still certain security risks for 3D printed products. Therefore, the person in charge of the hospital may not be able to use these products with confidence.
At the same time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also very cautious. To date, only a small portion of the applications submitted for 3D printing medical devices have been approved for production.
But the FDA also wrote on its official website: "During the special period of the COVID-19 public health emergency, 3D printing technology may help increase the inventory of medical equipment, and 3D printing of certain equipment will indeed be more suitable."
1. "War against Epidemic Disease"
The team responsible for 3D printing and some people in the medical community seem to have high hopes for 3D printing technology.
Many university joint libraries have collected related 3D printing equipment, and some 3D printing enthusiasts have brought equipment from their homes to assist. Some smaller companies have begun to cooperate with competitors to speed up the production of medical equipment.
In downtown Newark, New Jersey, Tangible Creative, a 3D printer with 100 3D printers, has collaborated with rival MakerBot in Brooklyn and co-founded 3D called Covid Makers Response with Columbia University Print Alliance. The alliance can make about 2,000 masks a day, and volunteers are responsible for sending them to more than 30 hospitals in Manhattan.
Nevaris A.C., co-founder and CEO of Tangible, said with emotion: "It feels like fighting now."
And this is only part of this nationwide movement. Nowadays, regardless of size, companies with the ability to start producing medical equipment.
Major US automakers have now switched to manufacturing respirator, Apple and other technology companies are designing protective masks, and companies that manufacture mobile phone accessories and gaming hardware have also turned to manufacturing masks. Most companies produce at existing manufacturing bases, and Ford says they will produce disposable masks at advanced manufacturing centers.
Anthony Costa is a professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and the director of Sinai Biodesign, a medical innovation center that has been helping hospitals purchase 3D printing equipment. He mentioned: "During the entire disaster, 3D printed The alliance is really amazing. "
He added: "In a way they do this by crowdsourcing. Everyone with a 3D printer moved the machine out of the basement until it was full in the city Their equipment to ensure the printing needs of key medical components. "
Earlier this month, President Trump cited the National Defense Products Act to speed up the production of ventilators and other equipment. Despite this, the delivery time of most equipment still has to wait until June.
Most 3D printing companies say that although they cannot replace traditional manufacturing, they lack equipment and the lives of medical staff are threatened. 3D printing technology is relatively fast and has good scalability, which is the most effective solution at the moment.
Greg Kessler, CEO of 3D printing company Shapeways, said: "The production of 3D printers is fast, so they can fill those short-term supply chain gaps ... Obviously, this is why 3D printing technology is This is the best solution. "
The masks manufactured by Shapeways have been distributed to hospitals in New York, and they are also producing pharyngeal swabs and ventilator dispensers for multiple patients.
2. 3D printing is not perfect
Some medical equipment is easier to produce than other medical equipment, so many 3D printing are focused on equipment such as masks.
At the Medical Center of the University of California, San Francisco, an emergency medicine professor and head of coronavirus, Jeanne Noble, told CNN Business in an interview: "In general, the mask should fit snugly on the forehead. , Cover the mask. And can not be too long, so as to prevent medical staff from touching their upper chest when they look down and hinder work. At the same time, it must be made of plastic, because the plastic is transparent to facilitate observation of the patient. After meeting these requirements, the mask can be officially used . "
The reason why other more basic medical equipment such as ventilators and masks are difficult to put into production is because the production requirements of these equipment are special, and the production usually requires FDA approval.
But ventilators are becoming more and more important now, especially in some states in the United States. Due to the serious shortage of ventilators, some patients will die.
“As the number of infections continues to rise, the senior management of the hospital has also begun to understand the 3D printing technology in depth, and think about the risk that the lack of ventilator will put the patient at risk?” Said Dr. Costa of Sinai Hospital, “As you know, breathing The machine is a device used to maintain life, but it is not just going to a store to buy parts. It can be used. As a doctor, we must first carry out research and test on certain things printed in 3D, and only meet the requirements before we can take it. use."
The FDA also warned that although 3D printing equipment can provide physical barrier protection, it cannot fully guarantee that it can block small liquid or air particles.
According to the description on the FDA website: "3D printed masks may look more like traditional PPE (personal protective equipment), but they cannot guarantee the same level of protection in terms of isolation, fluid resistance, filtration and infection control."
An FDA spokesperson said that FDA ’s National Health Center and the US Department of Veterans Affairs have evaluated 50 3D printed production applications. But so far, only one mask and eight masks have been approved for clinical use, and the other four masks are for community use.
The spokesman added: "In the face of the epidemic, we also want to be flexible and meet the supply of medical equipment as much as possible. As long as the production application submitted by you meets the data requirements, we will quickly approve it."
3. But 3D printing is still the hope
At present, some hospitals continue to choose 3D printing equipment that meets the requirements of use.
The University of California, San Francisco collaborated with the 3D printing company Carbon to produce a throat swab to test for coronavirus. And Professor Noble predicts that the throat swab will be put into use within the next two weeks.
She said: "Test swabs are still in short supply at this stage. If this 3D printing can be successful, it will have a crucial contribution."
According to a report by the American Federation of Scientists (FAS) last year, nearly 600,000 consumer 3D printers with a price of less than $ 5,000 were sold in the United States in 2018. Therefore, there is a potentially huge 3D printing technology network in the United States. Use it.
Tangible Creative, Hewlett-Packard and Shapeways have already published the design files of their 3D printed medical devices online for anyone in need to print.
Eugene Chang, co-founder of Tangible and director of industrial design, said: “This printing does not require a mold. After downloading the digital file, you can share it with others and let them continue printing, It's like operating on a 2D printer by sending an email. "
But Costa, a professor at Mount Sinai Hospital, said that even with the necessary approvals, more advanced equipment will require more industrialized printers to operate. According to the FAS report, as of 2018, 140,000 industrial printers were sold worldwide.
Most 3D printing companies have stated that once the regulatory and testing barriers are resolved, they can be quickly put into mass production. Pastor, HP ’s acting president of 3D printing, talked about the fact that one million test swabs can be produced every week at HP ’s US factory alone.
When the world is caught in a virus panic, although 3D printing technology cannot completely make up for the vacancy of medical equipment, it can indeed alleviate the urgent need to a certain extent.