COVID-19: Materialise, ‘Maker Army’ Deploy 3D Printing to Mitigate Device Shortages

Belgium’s 3D-printing pioneer Materialise has developed a device that can bring relief to patients awaiting a ventilator while an Israeli startup recruits a “Maker Army” to print and deliver protective gear.

Norbert Sparrow

April 6, 2020

4 Min Read
COVID-19: Materialise, ‘Maker Army’ Deploy 3D Printing to Mitigate Device Shortages

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime wake-up call for the world, as hospitals wrestle with shortages of critical medical equipment and healthcare professionals potentially face the grim prospect of rationing medical care. It’s a scenario that sadly we have seen played out in emerging economies over the years, but not in the most prosperous, technologically advanced economies the world has ever known. In time, we will draw some hard lessons from this calamity, but, first, we must deal with the crisis at hand. We have reported on various initiatives that companies and organizations large and small have taken to meet immediate needs over the last few weeks; here are two more examples of creators, in this instance in the 3D-printing space, stepping up to help.

The dire shortage of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients has spurred Belgium-based 3D-printing technology company Materialise to develop a connector that can convert standard hospital equipment into a mask that creates positive pressure in lungs to facilitate breathing. These devices fitted with the NIP connector will allow clinicians to reduce the time patients need access to mechanical ventilators, thus helping to reduce the strain on ventilator supplies, said Materialise. The company has deep experience in medical technology and associated regulatory requirements and hopes to have the device broadly available for hospitals by mid-April.

The system developed by Materialise helps patients to breathe while they wait for a ventilator. Image courtesy Materialise.

Because of the extreme shortage of mechanical ventilators, clinicians are exploring different methods to apply positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP) to the lungs of COVID-19 patients. The solution developed by Materialise converts standard hospital equipment into a non-invasive PEEP mask that can be connected to an oxygen supply. This provides patients with some breathing room before mechanical ventilators are required for treatment. It also helps transition them off ventilators earlier, freeing up these devices for patients in critical need. By using standard medical equipment, including a non-invasive ventilation (NIV) mask, filter and PEEP valve, the solution is simple to use and familiar to medical professionals.

Materialise is now fast-tracking the device through the regulatory approval process in Europe and the United States and, in parallel, supporting a clinical trial to test the device’s impact on COVID-19 patients. It expects first results to be available within the next two weeks.

In the meantime, Materialise is upscaling production capability at its ISO 13485–certified facilities in Leuven, Belgium, and Plymouth, MI, to make the solution available broadly and quickly to hospitals that are looking for an emergency solution. The company is also using the on-site 3D-printing facilities of qualified partners and is calling on other companies to join its initiative and help get this solution to as many patients as possible.

“3D printing is playing a crucial role in fighting the global coronavirus pandemic by making it possible to develop innovative solutions and have them available worldwide very quickly,” said Brigitte De Vet, Vice President of Materialise Medical.

Taking a different tack but aiming for similar outcomes is Israel-based Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM). A global humanitarian non-profit launched in 2014 to develop and distribute affordable products for people living with disabilities, the elderly and the poor, TOM has redirected its efforts to provide solutions for COVID-19 patients. “The TOM web-platform now allows individuals and groups of makers around the world to join a ‘Maker Army’ that mass-delivers protective gear and other solutions everywhere by sharing knowledge on a global basis and supporting the manufacturing and distribution of solutions at increasingly more efficient and lower costs,” the organization told PlasticsToday in an e-mail.

TOM is calling on inventors and 3D-printing enthusiasts to join the Maker Army and help create and deliver face shields, face masks, door openers, and other products to help local communities cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Detailed instructions on participating in this project are available on TOM’s COVID-19 online library.

The TOM network is designed to allow rapid scaling of solutions around the globe, said the organization in the e-mail. “Two weeks ago TOM’s COVID-19 Response Teams were involved with local partners in manufacturing hundreds of face shields. By last week, over 10,000 were manufactured, and heading towards 100,000 in two weeks and possibly manufacturing half a million within six weeks.”

Healthcare providers in need of medical supplies can submit requests here, and TOM will work to find a COVID-19-Response Team to assist with manufacturing.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 20 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree. Reach him at [email protected].


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