Italian hospital 3D prints ventilator parts, saves lives

The city of Brescia, Italy is in the coronavirus epicenter in the country. It’s heavily affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and in several areas, hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of patients.

But among the deluge of tragedies, there is also some good news: when a life-saving part broke down and there was no quick availability, 3D printing came in to save the day.

The original valve (on the left) and its 3D printed twin. Image credits: 3D Printing Media.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is mild in most cases. But it can require hospitalization, and it can be life threatening. The biggest problem is that it can cause pneumonia and other respiratory issues. In severe cases, patients find it hard to breathe and must be connected to a ventilator. When the ventilator breaks down, people’s lives can be threatened.

This is what happened in Brescia.

The hospital needed extra ventilator valves faster than any supplier could deliver them — everyone was out.

A local company brought a 3D printer to the hospital, designed new valves, and printed them out within hours.

Coronavirus, meet technology

Massimo Temporelli, founder of The FabLab in Milan and a very active and popular promoter of 3D printing in Italy, reported early on Friday 13th that he was contacted by Nunzia Vallini, editor of the Giornale di Brescia.

The two had worked together about disseminating a concept called Industry 4.0 — think smart cities, Internet of Things, 3D printing, things like that. But this was not a communication issue.

The hospital in Brescia urgently needed valves for an intensive care unit, and the suppliers could not provide them in time. Running out would leave patients completely vulnerable.

After several intense phone calls, they found someone that was up for the job. A local company, Isinnova, responded to this call for help. Founder & CEO Cristian Fracassi, brought a 3D printer to the hospital. In a few hours, he had redesigned and produced the missing piece. Soon enough, they had built several such valves.

“There were people in danger of life, and we acted,” Fracassi wrote, as translated by Metro. “Period. Now, with a cold mind, let’s think. Firstly, don’t call us, as some have, heroes. Sure, people were about to die, but we only did our duty. Refusing would not have been a cowardly act, but murderous.”

Another local company, Lonati SpA, used another technique (a polymer laser powder bed fusion) to produce even more valves.

As far as we understand, the hospital needs copyright to mass-produce such valves, but they can be produced without any infringement in the case of an emergency — as is obviously the case here.

It is a striking reminder that we are not powerless against the outbreak. Through measures both simple and complex, we can fight back and save lives.

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