Coronavirus patients at a hospital in Italy were saved thanks to 3D printed respirator valves that only cost a startup company $1 to make.
One of the most prominent and immediate problems amid the COVID-19 pandemic is dealing with the staggering amount of people who require intensive care and oxygenation to live through the infection long enough to fight it. A solution to this problem is having as many working respirators as possible.
A hospital in Brescia, Italy, close to one of the high-risk regions for infections, had 250 coronavirus patients in intensive care and urgently needed respirator valves that the original supplier could not provide them in a short time. A valve is a small but crucial component used to connect patients to breathing machines. Each valve can only be used for a maximum of eight hours.
CEO of startup Isinnova Cristian Fracassi and mechanical engineer Alessandro Romaioli learned of the healthcare emergency and hurried over to the hospital to check what they can do. They returned three hours later with a 3D-printed prototype for testing. After being told the prototype worked well, the two raced back to the office to print some more.
The pair worked in collaboration with Lonati, another local 3D-printer company, to meet the demand since each valve would take about an hour each to print. In 24 hours, 100 life-saving respirator valves, made of plastic and weighing 20 grams each, were designed and printed. At least 10 patients in ICU were able to use equipment containing the valves that evening.
Fracassi claimed he did not charge the hospital, and that it was the least he could do to help. Though the valves were not easy to print considering their very thin holes and tubes, smaller than 0.8m, producing the valves cost close to nothing at $1 each. Since then, Fracassi has successfully developed and tested a 3D-printed adapter to turn a snorkeling mask into a non-invasive ventilator for COVID-19 patients.