HP, 3D printing companies ramp up efforts to supply critical medical parts

A picture of a hospital corridor
HP has used 3D printing to make entirely new parts such as a plastic hands-free door opener while other companies are working on producing nasal swabs. (sfam_photo/Shutterstock)

IT giant HP Inc. and its network of customers have produced more than 25,000 3D-printed parts for medical gear like respirators and face shields to help with critical shortages of the medical supplies.

Those parts have been shipped to hospitals and healthcare providers in the U.S. and overseas to help deliver critical parts in the effort to battle the COVID-19 pandemic as demand for face shields along with N95-masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) has skyrocketed.

In one example, HP is working in Spain with Príncipe de Asturias Hospital to use 3D printing to produce a respiratory circuit designed to improve the oxygenation of patients with COVID-19, company officials said. The number of parts produced is scaling quickly as requests continue for additional supplies in countries around the world, the company said.

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HP is just one of many companies exploring ways to use their 3D printing capabilities to build things like breathing filters, ventilator valves, brackets for face shields and face mask clasps.

The company also used 3D printing to make entirely new parts such as a plastic hands-free door opener.

As door handles are among the most germ-infested objects in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, the plastic door handle adaptors HP developed enable "easy elbow opening to prevent further spread of the virus," according to the company.

As COVID-19 disrupts global supply chains and limits the ability to deliver critical materials, 3D printing is emerging as a key technology to fulfill some of the most in-demand supplies, according to Fabio Annunziata, head of strategy and business planning, 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing at HP Inc.

“As COVID-19 takes a toll on healthcare providers and people around the world, we believe technology like 3D printing can help alleviate some of the challenges the heroes on the front lines and their patients are facing due to a shortage of PPE and test swabs,” Annunziata said.

HP said more applications are in the testing and validation phase and are expected to begin production soon, including 3D-printed parts for a mechanical bag valve mask that is designed for use as short-term emergency ventilation of COVID-19 patients, HP said.

Other parts such as respirator components and FFP3 medical-grade face masks continue to progress through local regulatory and clinical evaluation.

HP is making the validated design files for many of the parts that do not require complex assembly freely available for download.

Hospitals and healthcare providers also can submit requests for 3D-printed parts.

Tele-dentistry company SmileDirectClub, considered one of the largest 3D printing manufacturers in the U.S., also is donating its manufacturing capacity and plastic to increase the production of medical supplies.

Nasal swabs

3D printing company Formlabs teamed up with the University of South Florida (USF) Health and New York City-based Northwell Health to create a 3D-printed nasal swab to address emergency shortages that hospitals and healthcare teams may face as testing for COVID-19 increases.

Testing has shown that the 3D-printed nasal swabs perform equally to standard swabs used for testing for COVID-19.

Over one week, the teams worked together to develop a nasal swab prototype and test it in the USF Health and Northwell Health labs. In two days, USF Health and Northwell Health, using Formlabs’ 3D printers and biocompatible, autoclavable resins, developed prototypes. The swabs were tested by clinicians at Northwell Health, USF Health and Tampa General Hospital for patient safety and comfort.

Now that clinical validation is complete, 3D printers at USF Health and Northwell Health will produce the swabs and provide them to their patients.

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Todd Goldstein, Ph.D., director of Northwell Health 3D Design and Innovation, said his team has started producing between 1,000 and 1,500 swabs per day.

"Not only will these swabs be provided to Northwell Health patients, but we are also proud to be sharing the design with other institutions that can 3D print so that patients across the country can benefit from our work," he said.

Face shields

A research collaborative in Georgia is focused on allowing manufactures to 3D print thousands of face shields for healthcare workers in the coming weeks.

The Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI) is involved in the initiative to provide, free of charge, the designs for manufacturing facilities to use in the production and distribution of face shields to healthcare workers.

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GCMI is collaborating with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Pediatric Technology Center along with Joanna Newton, M.D., a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the Aflac Center and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine as well as a team of scientists and researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and its Invention Studio.

The face shield intends to extend the use life of the current N95 inventory while protecting the healthcare professional from contamination events.

Connecting hospitals with printers

3D printing manufacturer Ultimaker is making its network of 3D printing hubs, experts and designers directly available to hospitals in need of tools and applications that are in short supply and can be quickly produced with 3D printing.

Hospitals that face acute shortages of critical parts and that have approved 3D print designs and material specifications already available can directly connect with 3D printing experts nearby through the Ultimaker website.

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