November 23, 2020
3d printing medical parts for covid-19 saving lives

How 3D Printer Companies Are Saving Lives Amid COVID-19 Crisis

American tech giant and 3D printer manufacturer HP has joined the fight against COVID-19 by using their 3D printing technology to print urgently needed parts for hospitals — and releasing the 3D printer files online for free. These critically important parts include face masks and shields, hands-free door openers to stop the spread of COVID-19 within hospitals, and key parts of respirators — of which many countries have nowhere near enough.

Compared to companies such as 3D Systems and Stratasys, HP are fairly new to the 3D printing industry. But that hasn’t stopped HP from introducing some of the most innovative new advances of the last few years. Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers can 3D print scalable numbers of custom parts, and in full color.

Now amid the COVID-19 crisis however HP are turning their attention toward how they can be of assistance, allocating space in their R&D centers across North America and Europe to create these key 3D printed medical parts. As of today HP claim to have already delivered over 1,000 3D printed medical parts to fight the spread of Coronavirus.

“HP and our digital manufacturing partners are working non-stop in the battle against this unprecedented virus. We are collaborating across borders and industries to identify the parts most in need, validate the designs, and begin 3D printing them”

Enrique Lores, CEO & President of HP

Faced with such short time to put parts into production and with the ever-present threat of COVID-19, the team have to prioritize. Resources are currently being focused on 3D printing face shields, mask adjusters, and hands-free door openers, with further goals to create new hospital-grade 3D printed face masks and emergency 3D printed ventilators if testing is successful.

hp 3d printed face shield
Source: HP. A 3D printed face shield to protect medical workers.

The ventilator is the most exciting development — not only do ventilators keep people alive, but they’re in very short supply for many countries during the crisis. 3D printing offers a way to make suboptimal, but working, ventilators that can operate as a very short-term option. They only require printing parts for a bag valve mask for those suffering from respiratory issues brought on by COVID-19. The 3D printed ventilator mask was designed by Leitat senior engineer Magí Galindo, and medically validated by Dr. Lluís Blanch.

These parts are useful beyond hospital use, and could be crucial in saving lives in other areas. 3D printed hands-free door openers for example are an innovative way of keeping group-living arrangements such as care homes disease-free, and are important in areas of work that have not been closed down yet, such as in mail sorting and factories. The door opener was developed by 3D printing service Materialise and can be downloaded here. This innovative design allows you to open the door using your elbow rather than your hand, minimizing the chance of the virus spreading.

3d printed elbow door opener to prevent the spread of covid-19
These 3D printed elbow/arm door openers, designed by Materialise, prevent the spread of COVID-19 as you don’t need to touch the door handle with your bare hands.

These items will help front line medical staff who work long and exhausting shifts, putting their health in danger to care for those affected by the virus. The mask adjusters mean that face masks can be adjusted to fit medical staff with a 3D printed clasp, reducing discomfort and preventing ear pain. The face shield are also very important, and protect medical staff treating patients with COVID-19. There are also plans for nasal swabs among other 3D printed medical parts.

It is of critical importance that these pivotal members of society do not get ill while treating patients. Not only does this increase the numbers of infected and reduce the workforce available to treat those afflicted with the virus, but since these people come into close contact with so many others, this could result in the virus spreading far more quickly. These 3D printed parts may therefore prove vital in keeping our heroic medical staff healthy, saving lives.

3d printed ventilator open source ventilator project for treating covid-19 patients
A ventilator design by the Open Source Ventilator Project.

HP is not the only 3D printing company to rise to the occasion and announce their intention to help. Josef Prusa, RepRap legend, Founder of Prusa 3D and designer of probably the best 3D printer kit of all time, announced he is redirecting his 3D printer farm towards making face shields. However, he also correctly warns that correct procedures and tests must be followed by anyone else who wants to help 3D print these face shields, as a false sense of security from inadequate face shields could be lethal.

You can read more about Prusa’s work with face shields here.

If you own a 3D printer and would like to assist, visit HP’s website offering free downloads of the medical part files here.

If you don’t own a 3D printer but are interested in buying one, we have a number of guides to help you decide: