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  • The covid-19 pandemic has created a global shortage of personal protective equipment. “Healthcare

  • workers have to fight for PPE so they can fight the virus.” “Nurses in a New York city hospital

  • wearing garbage bags.” "We are all shopping China to try to get these materials and we're

  • all competing against each other." “The state of New Hampshire secured and just received

  • millions of pieces of personal protective equipment from China

  • but thanks to in large part to the man who invented the

  • Segway.” This mad dash for PPE has thrown a tiny item into the spotlight: the nasopharyngeal

  • swabThese aren't your average q-tips. They need to be long enough to reach the back

  • of your throat, with synthetic fibers to effectively sweep for a sampleDoctors need millions

  • of these swabs to test and contain the spread of covid-19. But that demand has been met

  • with a major bottleneck in the global supply chainRight now, there's really only two

  • manufacturers, that's partly why we have this severe shortage. And the entire world is going

  • after the same supplyOne is in Maine in New England in the US and the other is in

  • Northern Italy. So that region was one of the first to be affected.

  • So a network of 3D printing companies and

  • clinical researchers sprung into action to design, prototype, and mass print swabs and

  • other forms of PPE at breakneck speedWe're able to really be nimble and responsive to

  • the needs and flip the switch quite literally overnight. Because the file can be shared

  • digitally anyone qualified can take that production into their own hands. This has opened all

  • of our eyes about the impact and the value that 3D printing can bring to the medical

  • spaceWorking with digital files that you can modify and print within your own facility,

  • can really change the game.

  • March is really where the scale of this pandemic became evident.

  • We started just getting an influx of emails, people asking for everything from N95 masks

  • and face shields, to ventilator components, to swabs for patient sampling. And we sort

  • of said, "What should we prioritize?" Carbon is a Bay Area based digital manufacturing company.

  • We immediately pivoted from producing some consumer products

  • to producing face shields to support those

  • people on the front linesWe came up with several designs, we drove those

  • back and forth between physicians at Stanford and KaiserWithin a

  • matter of days, we had posted a digital design file on our website so that all of our production

  • partners could use their printers and our technology to make these face shields and

  • support their local communities. Those are sort of some of the inherent advantages of

  • additive that we've known about for a while, and this pandemic has just brought them to

  • the forefront. Formlabs is a 3D printing company. We have well-over 60,000 3D printers deployed

  • around the worldWe've built up a base of well over 100 hospitals in the US and abroad

  • that have brought our 3D printers on site to print different patient's specific surgical

  • tools and surgical devices and medical models. I received an email from a doctor at USF Health

  • in South Florida, who was working with a clinician at the largest health system in New York stateBoth

  • of them had been working on a dozen designs at this point to 3D print the swabs that were

  • out of stockThey asked us for some input from an engineering perspective in terms of

  • how do we print 3,000 of these a day or 10,000 a week? And that's where we can use our resources

  • to say you can fit 325 swabs on one built platform for a printer and turn that around

  • in less than 24 hours. In the last month we've received a request for well over 10 million swabs.

  • This is a major moment

  • for the additive manufacturing industry. A distributed technology that can rapidly customize

  • and print spare parts is, in a sense, an ideal first responder toolIf you're thinking

  • about traditional medical device development, you're talking about one to three years

  • between prototyping, documentation, trials. I was looking at the timeline from when we

  • first started hearing these requests for swabs given the shortages to the time when we launched

  • that product And it was 20 days, which is pretty incredible. But printing rapidly is

  • only part of the equationThis is a brand new medical device. It's made in a novel way,

  • and it's pretty clear that we're all trying to understand what is good enough to deploy

  • to the masses. It's important for all of these concepts to be evaluated by clinicians and

  • by regulatory professionals.

  • For many medical devices, they recommend that the resins are biocompatibleThey typically

  • have to do with how resins or parts interact with the human body and also measuring how

  • long that contact can take place in a safe wayFor the face shields that we're making

  • at our Carbon facilities, we're using a resin that we've tested for cytotoxicity, irritation,

  • sensitizationThe clinical evaluation for swabs has really been focused on a few thingsOne

  • is human factors or comfort. I don't think anybody has ever said that nasopharyngeal

  • swab is comfortable, but you try to make it as comfortable as possible. The second is

  • specimen collectionThe third was for PCR compatibility. This

  • is basically the test equipment and assays to make sure that using this new material

  • or new design doesn't interfere with that test result in some way. And when comparing

  • the Formlabs swab to the traditional ones. There are well over 100 clinical cases showing

  • that Formlabs swabs are just as effective as the traditional swabs. And for Carbon the

  • printed swab gave the same result as the traditional swab. To show superiority

  • you would just need a much, much larger study. I think that's something

  • we look at on the horizon. It makes us feel really good to be part of this industry, to

  • see all of our customers and partners rise to the challengeIt really breaks

  • down traditional barriers that exist between competitors. We are, in some cases sharing

  • printable files with each other and making connections just really trying to get as many

  • impactful parts out there as possible regardless of the vendor of the 3D printing machine.

  • We were receiving a few dozen emails a day from customers and from 3D printing enthusiasts

  • around the world. We're now at a few

  • weeks in, and we have over 3,000 volunteers

  • who are willing to not only print for their local hospitals and communities

  • but also to provide pro bono design and engineering servicesAnd it's really been a heartwarming

  • initiative, honestly seeing all the goodwill. Our mission is to make what the world needs.

  • And this is a perfect embodiment of thatEven though there's no playbook for this we were

  • prepared and had some of those critical pieces in place. If we can go from design to product

  • launch in 20 days, you sort of say, "Well, why aren't we doing that for other

  • sorts of devices.

  • Right now, hundreds of billions

  • of dollars of inventory of physical goods are stored around the world, not just healthcare

  • supplies, but industrial equipment. There's a lot of reasons why you'd want to have that

  • inventory in the cloud. And basically just have a digital design file that can be downloaded

  • and printed as it's neededIt's important in this time but even when you're not in crisis mode.

  • Working alongside the additive manufacturing industry are a network of makers who turned

  • to 3D printers to help their local communities. Check out the second part to see what they built.

The covid-19 pandemic has created a global shortage of personal protective equipment. “Healthcare

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The 3D Printing Industry Just Built a Stockpile in the Cloud

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    Summer posted on 2020/05/09
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