This second of a two-part article explains how 3D printing can play a part in battling the Covid-19 pandemic
BY VICTOR DEVADASS
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the supply chain. The traditional supply chain based on pricing, negotiation and globalisation leans on sourcing inventory and supplies from all over the world to keep the price down.
That approach ties up cash flow and, during Covid-19, failed for many companies. According to observations, supplier delays have impacted nearly two-thirds of businesses, while shifts in demand have hit more than half of them.
Although globalisation has been hit hard because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has had an unexpected effect on 3D printing services.
The 3D printing industry has stepped in to design and manufacture critical parts to help meet these needs. A critical factor in the battle against the coronavirus is widespread requirement for diagnostic testing.
The most common test uses nasopharyngeal swabs to collect samples from the upper respiratory tract. However, these specially-designed swabs were in short supply in some countries as they were manufactured overseas. These commercially available cotton and wood swabs were not of high value added parts but were much needed to make an accurate diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
In the US there are about 100,000 swabs per day with more than 250 printers running 24/7. During the pandemic, there was a surge in the urgent need for producing personal protective equipment — including masks and face shields — for medical personnel on the frontlines of battling Covid-19. Picture above shows how swabs were manufactured using Formlab 3D printers to meet the urgent requirements for these test kits.
Let’s not forget the contributions and efforts of the local 3D-printing community in Malaysia to help truncate wait times for much needed medical supplies, such as face shields and face mask straps. This is a noble and critical mission in the current fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
3D printing in the medical sector
In general, 3D printing will transform healthcare and improve the lives of people all over the world. There are various applications of 3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), in the medical sector as shown in the figure below.
The key points to take note of is of how AM technology will move forward in the healthcare sector as listed below:
a) To bring engineers / clinicians/ surgeons together as a multi-disciplinary team, to develop creativity and problem-solving skills.
Collaboration is paramount to providing the best possible care to patients. In fact, the three fields of Research, Education and Clinical Practice converge to leverage the benefits of each and ensure that the needs of the patient comes first.
When talented professionals come together to determine the best possible way to proceed with patient care, the result is innovation. Picture below, shows the future, where (BME) Biomedical Engineers will play a key role, working alongside with medical personnel
b) To better prepare medical students for the challenges they would face when entering real-world hospital environments.
Opening the doors for engineering & medical students to work directly with clinicians, providing a platform for innovation-driven education. It will give these students the unique opportunity to participate in current patient cases by working with radiologists to produce accurate anatomical models which can be used for medical simulation and task training
c) To print patient specific anatomical models.
This will help students to learn the processes behind interpreting medical scan data, segmenting critical features and mastering the process of producing 3D prints and how their efforts are also a huge benefit to clinical practices. Usually the Department of Surgery, Department of Radiology, and Division of Engineering need to collaborate to produce patient-specific anatomic models that help to educate patients, families, and care teams in surgical understanding and preparation.
From surgical planning, the use of AM will and has expanded into the production of patient-specific tools, guides, and fixtures to aid with carrying out a digital plan made pre-operatively by the surgical team.
d) Optimising their AM process to have a fast turnaround for surgeons who are preparing for operations.
Through this, they can take an image from a patient scan, convert that to a 3D print and have that model in the hands of a surgeon in just a day, to pre-plan the surgery. This will help surgical time.
— The Health
Victor Devadass is a Consultant in 3D printing for medical applications.