The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world by forcing the implementation of social distancing measures, travel restrictions, and work-from-home policies. To prevent the spread of the disease, it is recommended to use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and face shields when you leave the house.
Moreover, with the increasing number of cases, the demand for ventilator parts has escalated worldwide. However, there is a limited supply of these products, and this inadequacy is being addressed by three-dimensional (3D) printing, an innovative technology used to fabricate complex architecture at the shortest possible time.
Several open-source 3D printable designs are available for people to download and customise their PPE.
The main mode of transmission of COVID-19 is from person to person. A person gets infected through close-range contact, mainly via respiratory droplets, when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. To avoid this mode of transmission and to ensure compliance, it is encouraged to wear masks.
There are three types face mask for COVID-19 prevention: homemade cloth face mask, surgical mask and N95 respirator mask. The N95 respirator masks are above 95 per cent efficient and are tested and customised to fit each user for an adequate and precise seal. The 3D printing technology is creating a biocompatible N95 mask at the shortest possible time.
Hands-free door handle attachments
The novel virus present on contaminated surfaces could be another source of infection if vulnerable individuals touch these surfaces and then carry the infectious virus to mucous membranes in the mouth, eyes, or nose. Door handles are among the most contaminated objects.
Here are the most interesting 3D printed door-handle hacks to mitigate the spread of infection.
1. A Belgium-based company has created a door handle that can be assembled with screws.
2. A Bulgarian company has released a door knob which fits onto circular handles. The fascinating feature of this device is it is printed from thermochromic pigments, which makes it change colour when someone touches it.
3. In the UK and Spain, a device has been created that can be a cable-tied door handle attachment without the use of screws.
4. A designer from the US has designed a multipurpose tool which helps to prevent direct contact with handles and other objects.
Hand sanitiser holder
Researchers found that alcohol-based hand sanitisers kill the coronavirus and reduces the virus to background levels within 30 seconds. Hence, it is recommended to use hand sanitisers frequently. However, there is a potential risk of contaminating the sanitiser bottle when it is touched. To alleviate this, an engineer has designed a 3D printable wrist clasp to hold the sanitiser bottle.
Moreover, to avoid direct contact with sanitiser bottles with pump at public places, an attachment that allows the use of the forearm to dispense sanitiser was created.
Face shields form a barrier by not only preventing the touching of nose and mouth, but also the eyes. Recently, some researchers say face shields might replace masks as a more comfortable and more effective deterrent to COVID-19.
Mostly these face shields are being worn in conjunction with masks or respirators by healthcare workers for better protection. They consist of just two parts: a visor that covers the face, and headband or strap that is usually made of synthetic polymers that are 3D printable.
Healthcare workers are in constant contact with the patients with COVID-19 infection. Hence, it is imperative to take significant precautions to avoid contracting the disease. Therefore, apart from face shields, they are required to wear safety goggles to prevent contact of their conjunctivae to infective droplets and aerosols from patients during the treatment.
COVID-19 specimen collection kit
The fundamental need to combat COVID-19 is identifying the cases that have been infected at the earliest possible time. The diagnosis of the disease is made by direct detection of genetic material, which is collected from the upper respiratory tract by a nasopharyngeal swab. The 3D printed test swabs would help increase COVID-19 testing capacity.
Assisted respiration devices
While some cases with COVID-19 have mild symptoms without lung infection, others may experience difficulty breathing, pneumonia (lung infection) and even respiratory failure. A ventilator is a device that takes over the body's breathing process when there is respiratory failure.
Patients with mild symptoms may be given special ventilation face masks, nasal masks or mouthpieces which allow air-oxygen mixture to be pushed into the lungs. The unprecedented high demand for these devices was promptly addressed by the 3D printing industry.
In Italy, machine suppliers could not swiftly dispense the valves for Venturi oxygen masks. During this crisis, several companies rapidly came up with 3D printed replacement valves in just a few hours. Another company designed a 3D printable adapter for converting a snorkelling mask into a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
A Polish company has created a ventilator, wherein some of its parts are 3D printed, and with other additional attachments that are easily available, such as car parts, it can be assembled into a fully functional device.
Another invention in Europe and the United States is a 3D-printed ventilator splitter and adjustable flow control valve that allows a single ventilator to support up to four patients.
COVID-19 positive cases and patients with mild symptoms who do not require assisted respiration have been shifted to quarantine centres in China due to shortage of space in hospitals. An architectural 3D printing company dispatched quarantine rooms using environmental-friendly urban construction waste, thus mitigating the stress on the hospitals.
Currently, there is no specific medicine to treat COVID-19. However, once the potent medication is identified, there rises a crucial need to rapidly produce the drugs to meet the demand. To print pharmaceutical ingredients, a coaxial needle extrusion 3D technology is used and combinations of controlled dosing of gels are created using 3D tissue engineering.
In a nutshell, 3D printing technology has eliminated the pressure on manufacturers, healthcare providers and governments to address COVID-19-related supply shortages during this outbreak.
Dr Navajyothi Dalayi is Senior Lecturer and Director of Medical Sciences 1, Graduate School of Medicine, Perdana University, Malaysia.
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