The STEM Education Blog

3D Printers changed the game in the fight against COVID-19

May 13, 2020 12:00:00 PM / by Rebecca Ellis

As the coronavirus quickly infected more individuals, especially in high-impact areas where the infection was most concentrated like New York, hospitals feared they would run out of resources. Personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and testing kits were in short supply, and healthcare professionals were looking for a solution.

Soon, however, 3D printers began firing up around the country from manufacturers to educational institutions, 3D printer retailers, maker clubs, and the homes of 3D-printing hobbyists. Designs began to circulate, and customized medical devices, including ventilator manifolds, face shields, mask extenders, and nasal swabs, were shipped out combat COVID-19.

Ventilator shortages

92439123_1294532554086249_4929941557462695936_o (2)Difficulty breathing and respiratory problems are one severe aspect of the coronavirus that can land individuals in the hospital in need of a ventilator. Because of this, when hospitals in high-impact areas started to become overwhelmed, ventilators were in short supply. This caused concern for how everyone who needed a ventilator would get proper care, and healthcare workers faced the real fear of having to make choices regarding who would receive a ventilator and who wouldn’t. As a result, ventilator manifolds were developed using 3D printers, allowing two or even four patients to use one ventilator, depending on lung capacity and oxygen needs. The 3D-printed ventilator manifolds showed great innovation and ultimately saved many lives.

A need for personal protective equipment

The coronavirus has been shown to spread through respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze, and because of this, the CDC has encouraged everyone to wear masks to help slow the spread of the virus. Personal protective equipment is particularly important for healthcare workers on the frontlines fighting the virus. Face shields and mask extenders have been 3D printed to keep doctors and nurses protected but also keep them comfortable while doing so. Oftentimes, when worn for long periods of time, surgical masks can irritate the backs of the ears if they do not fit properly; however, mask extenders can help make masks more comfortable while keeping the wearer protected. In this way, these items have helped protect doctors and nurses to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing.

Test development

The key to mitigating the spread of the virus is contact tracing. However, in order to trace who has been in contact with a coronavirus patient, you must first Canva - Coronavirus Statistics on Screenknow who has the coronavirus. Since some patients are asymptomatic, testing will continue to play a critical role to slowing the spread of the virus. Because of this, nasal swabs have been 3D printed to help expand the number of tests available to patients. With a larger number of tests, tracking of COVID-19 cases will become easier, and the virus will be able to be more easily controlled.

Thanks to the ingenuity of these 3D-printed medical devices, the United States has been able to get a better handle on the COVID-19 pandemic and save the lives of countless coronavirus patients.

To see what STEM Education Works has been working on to help supply resources for hospitals during this difficult time, click here.

Topics: Social-Conscious STEM, STEM Tools, 3D Printing

Rebecca Ellis

Written by Rebecca Ellis