A startup company is in the early stages of building a proof-of-concept that would allow local hospitals to employ 3D printers to manufacture ventilators and other medical equipment to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Veritx president James Regenor said company executives have already been involved in use cases in which the military has used 3D printers to create replacement parts on aircraft carriers at sea. That same concept could be applied to medical equipment using any number of 3D printing services that now operate in most municipalities. In fact, some hospitals attached to universities already probably have access to 3D printers.
Veritx is in the process of looking for funding to help create a proof-of-concept (PoC) around an electronic file that would contain the schematics for printing out the parts that make up a ventilator. Those parts could then be assembled near a medical facility to provide a steady source of ventilators as needed, said Regenor.
Those printers could also be employed to create splitters that would enable multiple patients to share the same ventilator or, if need be, convert other devices for pumping oxygen, such as scuba equipment, into a makeshift ventilator, he said.
Regenor estimates a local 3D printing service could manufacture more than 1,000 ventilators a day. Alternatively, medical facilities could use 3D desktop printers to fill an immediate need.
The issue that 3D printing could solve is that ventilator manufacturing is currently dominated by a handful of companies. As demand for ventilators escalates, many of these companies are having issues scaling up their manufacturing. That shortage of ventilators has resulted in a wide range of companies, including Ford and General Motors, offering to use their manufacturing lines to build ventilators. However, it may be months before any ventilators that might be manufactured by those companies become available because of the need to retool manufacturing lines. Ventilators created using 3D printers could, in theory, be available within hours or days of being ordered, at a much lower cost.
The ventilator shortage is already a chronic issue in areas such as Italy and New York, where the COVID-19 pandemic is now raging. It’s likely to become an even bigger problem as the virus spreads to more rural areas where hospitals don’t tend to keep many ventilators on hand. State governments naturally will do their best to acquire as many ventilators as possible; however, competition is now fierce, with individual states and governments around the world outbidding each other for ventilators. The chances that smaller states will have the financial resources necessary to compete for ventilators are slim.
It’s too early to say to what degree the current pandemic may be one of those seminal events that winds up boosting an emerging technology such as 3D printing. The one thing that is certain is manufacturers of 3D printers have a role to play in the current crisis that could transform the medical equipment industry in a most unexpected way.