3D Printing Emerges As Option For Addressing Healthcare Equipment Shortages

As the demand for healthcare equipment rises, manufacturers are struggling to meet the demand. In response, some are turning to 3D printing as an extra option for providing the supplies providers need.

For example, one tech firm which makes 3D printers is helping to solve a nationwide shortage of COVID-19 test swabs by scaling up the printing of test swabs. The company, Formlabs, is working with hospitals to develop and create prototypes that can serve as models going forward.

Formlabs is already active in the healthcare industry. For example, the company recently announced an agreement with GE Healthcare in which radiologists use its Advantage Workstation to prepare 3D CT or MRI data to support diagnosis and procedure planning by exporting the data in a form ready for 3D printing on the Formlabs systems.

According to a tweet published on March 27, Formlabs is currently producing up to 150,000 swabs per day at its FDA-registered facility in Ohio to meet hospital swab shortages. Hospitals will also be printing swabs on-site at Formlabs FDA-registered facilities.

Among the providers working with Formlabs are health systems USF Health and Northwell Health which partnered to develop prototypes. The design will be shared with institutions around the country.

These initiatives are part of a larger program, the Formlabs Support Network for COVID-19 Response, designed to match healthcare organizations with Formlabs customers agreeing to use their 3D printers and volunteer their time. The network already has a handful of efforts underway, including a project focused on turning scuba masks into personal protective equipment.

Another example comes from South Florida, where Florida International University and Baptist Health South Florida are cooperating to manufacture face shields for healthcare workers.

Students, faculty and staff members with FUI’s College of Communications, Architecture + The Arts are using almost three dozen 3D printers for the project, and expect to print as many as 1,000 face shields using non-toxic polylactic acid.  The masks will be used to protect Baptist Health medical staff when caring for patients who have or are expected to have COVID-19.

There are also smaller community groups that are organizing across the country to be able to provide their 3D printers to create PPE, masks, and shields as well. Many are looking for local area hospitals that need them. For example, this Open Source COVID-19 Medical Supplies – Las Vegas group was created for just this purpose. As one member said, “What is most valuable to the healthcare community for me to start printing? I have way too much filament and would love to use it to help a good cause!”

These efforts come as the federal government begins to support efforts of this kind. According to Fierce Biotech, the FDA is beginning to work with government and public-private partners to distribute and evaluate 3D designs and models.  The overarching goal of the effort is to help organizations provide much-needed hardware and parts.

It is joining a group including the NIH, the Department of Veterans Affairs and DoD manufacturing accelerator program America Makes which will look at ways to help hospitals and other entities furnish needed components close to the patient or at the point of care. These components could include ventilator values and other parts, along with personal protective equipment such as face masks and rigid plastic shields.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

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