COVID-19: A Public Health Crisis Fought With Additive Manufacturing

COVID-19: A Public Health Crisis Fought With Additive Manufacturing

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It was a fateful day. In the blink of an eye, the world’s view of how things are and will be radically changed.

The date? It was March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization has finally declared a pandemic over COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

But if there was frightening about the repercussions of the pandemic, there was an even more critical global issue – then silently being watched by the world’s medical community. Whispers were going around the hospital halls. Rumors were that many companies have stopped production.

This was especially true then for activities where the distance between people cannot be guaranteed.

More than 230 days later, the technology of additive manufacturing has been in full use in the fight against COVID-19.

With increasing medical products on-demand, some individuals and companies in support of medical sectors around the globe have since been employing additive manufacturing or AM, a process of adding materials to create an object using computer-aided design software and 3D object printer.

Hundreds of thousands of medical frontliners worldwide have been provided help through 3D printed personal protective equipment, among them, a 3D printed stopgap surgical face mask which has been FDA approved in the US and a 3D printed CAPR (controlled air-purifying respirator) mask.

Companies such as Stratasys, Ltd., an American-Israeli 3D printing systems firm, delivers 5,000 protective shields every week while Medscan3D from Ireland continues to print parts of medical products that are biocompatible and suitable for the autoclave.

Here in the Philippines, DOST-ITDI Director Dr. Annabelle V. Briones, through the MATDEV (Multiple Materials Platform for Additive Manufacturing) Project Team led by Materials Science Chief Dr. Blessie A. Basilia, went into the thick of things on March 26, 2020 – eight days after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte placed the entire Luzon Island under enhanced community quarantine.

MATDEV is one of two projects of the Advanced Manufacturing Center or AMCen, a shared facility between ITDI and the Metals Industry Research and Development Center (DOST-MIRDC). The second project is MIRDC’s RAPPID-ADMATEC (Research on Advanced Prototyping for Product Innovation and Development using Additive Manufacturing Technologies).

Working on a 24-hour shift, MATDEV later delivered 100 3D-printed frames and shield assemblies to Dr. John Yam, a cardiac surgeon at the Philippine Heart Center while the Perpetual Help Medical Center in Las Pinas City received their set on April 14.

To date, MATDEV has donated more than 1,200 sets of 3D-printed face shield assemblies and 1,270 3D-printed ear relief bands to 14 other hospitals in Metro Manila.

MATDEV, however, not only employs additive manufacturing (AM) as “… a transformative approach to industrial production.” It also undertakes research and development on materials for use in additive manufacturing abled (AMabled) products. The aim is to reduce the cost of raw materials by using local resources and increase the effective use of AMabled products.

Thus, as MATDEV were printing face shield assemblies it was also helping the National Children’s Hospital in Quezon City in the development of respirator venturi valves. These valves connect patients in intensive care to breathing machines. On April 14, MATDEV delivered two prototypes of 3D printed respirator venturi valves to test fit in their existing respirator.

Similarly, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital in Manila sought technical assistance in evaluating characteristics of alternative types of air filtration materials which they can use as a replacement part in their respirators. A critical piece, an air filter in a respirator is designed to protect wearers from inhaling hazardous fumes and particulate matter such as airborne microorganisms.

According to Dr. Meyvell G. Atanoso, the UST Hospital typically uses bacterial/viral filter, also known as a Heat and Moisture Exchange (HME) filter, in their ventilators and respirators. However, trade and transport restrictions during the health crisis has made securing HME filters difficult. This prompted the hospital to seek the help of MATDEV in search of an alternative filter that performs similarly to HME filters.

However, while the material from three commonly available filters showed similar functionality with HME filters, MATDEV recommended instead the use of electrostatic filters because of its electrostatically charged fibers.

Meanwhile, confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 5,453 sometime in April. Hospitals soon ran out of ventilator parts.

MATDEV thus worked on 3D printing prototypes of parts of the Multiple Patient Ventilator Splitter and Mechanic Ventilator- Mini-War Zone – equipment listed by DOH as badly needed for COVID-19 treatment. Ventilators are machines that help to get more oxygen into the lungs and take carbon dioxide out. It is designed to breathe for somebody who is unable to breathe effectively on their own. Currently, five hospitals in Metro Manila have received their 3D printed prototypes of ventilator parts.

A nebulizer mask, a support attachment, was also improved. MATDEV developed a 3D printed filter attachment for use in commercially available masks such as the Modified Oxygen Concentrator Mask. The attachment allows for a more efficient way for patients to breathe in medications.

Several weeks later, medical hints of nebulizers reportedly being able to increase droplet dispersion of medications urged the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) in Quezon City to enlist MATDEV’s expertise in the development and printing of a prototype of the aero chamber/diffuser for metered-dose inhalers.

The diffuser is used for direct delivery of medication to the patient’s lungs, thus, decreasing the chances of virus dispersion in the air.

Prototypes of medical accessories made by MATDEV include prototype 1 of the co-polyester (CPE) filament, which was printed using the Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D Printer. The second prototype is made of photopolymer grey resin and printed using the Stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printer. The SLA 3D Printer produces prototypes with higher resolution compared to the FDM 3D Printer. The prototypes were sent to PCMC for fit testing and evaluation.

Lastly, MATDEV designed a mask similar to the N95 but with optimized functionality. The mask consists of two layers; the main layer is made of nano-enabled filament material with flexible lining stitched on the edges of the mask. The second layer consists of an antiviral filter cloth.

There are a host of other AMabled products that the future medical and industrial needs might require from MATDEV.

Through collaboration, innovative thinking, and application of research and development advances, MATDEV and the rest of the science community can truly serve the people, help save lives, and impact change.

To view more exciting Research and Development (R&D) initiatives from DOST, join the 5th National R&D Conference from November 9 to 11, 2020.
With the theme “Research and Development: Making Change Happen”, the event will highlight the results of R&D that revolutionized or transformed the lives of Filipinos. With support from

USAID Stride, programs and projects of government funding agencies (DOST, DA, DENR, DICT and CHED) that have shown significant impact to both society and environment will be featured during the virtual event.

To join, you may register for free at https://nrdc.dost.gov.ph/.

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