3D Printing Helps Save Patients During Virus Crisis, And You Should Too

By on March 16th, 2020 in Usage

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3D printed valves to be used in Milan hospitals [Source: La Stampa]

3D printed valves to be used in Milan hospitals [Source: La Stampa]

Long-time Fabbaloo reader Marco Silvestri tipped us to an interesting situation happening in Milan. 

Silvestri, of the Department of Engineering and Architecture at the University of Parma, writes:

”As you know in northern Italy the COVID-19 emergency is very serious and new resuscitation departments equipped with machinery to ventilate patients are being set up with great urgency.

Here’s the story of how, thanks to 3D printing, people are compensating for the lack of spare parts. There are patent and validation issue in using these non-original spare parts, but when it is a matter of hours to avoid people dying, it’s time to make exceptions.”

Ventilator Valve Shortage

The story, in La Stampa , describes a desperate situation at a hospital in Brescia, where 3D printing was able to overcome a major challenge in combating virus spread. 

The problem lies in the overwhelming number of patients arriving at the hospital who require the use of ventilators. The COVID-19 virus compromised their breathing and without ventilation many afflicted patients would die. Unfortunately, the number of patients arriving exceeds the number of ventilators, which is why the authorities everywhere are seeking to limit the transmission of the virus to slow the arrival rate at hospitals. 

The Brescia hospital was unable to procure additional valves from the supplier that would allow expanded ventilation capacity, as there is significant demand in this period. In desperation, a local newspaper editor reached out to a local FabLab and asked for help. Could the FabLab produce replacement valves for the hospital? 

FabLab Produces Ventilator Valves

The founder of the FabLab, Massimo Temporelli, took on the task of producing replacement valves.

However, this job was made more difficult by the manufacturer, who declined to provide the necessary 3D models to produce them. It seems that Temporelli quickly re-engineered the design and began producing valves using the FabLab’s 3D printers. 

Breaking The Rules With 3D Printing

In normal times you’d immediately realize there are a number of rules being broken here: a copyrighted design is being illegally replicated by someone who doesn’t own the intellectual property. A makeshift valve is to be used in a life-threatening situation without going through the usual certification protocols. 

But these are not normal times. 

Patients are literally dying while awaiting ventilation, and these rule violations will simply have to be figured out later. The most important thing is to save the patients, and save them now. 

Currently the 3D printed valves are undergoing essential and basic tests to ensure they can work. Temporelli said (via Google Translate): 

“If the green light arrives, as we all hope, despite the controversies that have not been lacking, we could organize ourselves to print them on request and supply the valves also to other hospitals that need them. We have already been contacted by other structures, from Pescara, from Sassari. 

When time is not there and people risk their lives, we cannot stop in front of the bureaucracy. It is a situation of extraordinary emergency but it is good to see, thanks to an intuition and a little resourcefulness, that we can try to solve such a big problem with a technology that everyone talks about, but nobody knows how it really works.” 

A Call To FabLabs Everywhere

This is perhaps a foreshadowing of what may be necessary in other jurisdictions that have not yet seen the depths of the outbreak as had Italy. 

I ask that FabLabs and 3D print services across the world take note, and be ready. 

You may be asked to help. And if not, volunteer your services to the local healthcare authorities. Immediately. 

Via La Stampa [Italian]

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!