Key to the fight against COVID-19 is the supply of ventilators and similar equipment that help the sickest patients when they can’t breathe on their own. Now, Protolabs has announced a partnership with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains to create crucial parts for these types of equipment in just a matter of days.
The Protolabs team is 20 strong and will form with the F1 team and their partner University College London (UCL) to increase the speed of production of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP systems. These work to deliver oxygen to the lungs of sick patients without the need for an invasive ventilator. The project aims to produce the parts in just three days and is being made here in the UK.
The first two tools make the brackets that hold the device next to the bed while the third is to create the cap that stops air escaping from the machine and ensures it goes into patient instead. The sample parts were made from nylon, 30% glass fibre and acetal copolymer and have been sent for inspection by relevant bodies.
Once they are confirmed as acceptable, production can get started with a run rate of 1100 parts per day until 10,000 of each have been manufactured. After this, the parts and the devices they feature in will be sent to 250 hospitals around the UK to help with the frontline care of people with coronavirus.
Traditional and modern systems
Protolabs were keen to use a combination of traditional and modern systems to achieve their goal. The emphasis was on speed as parts were needed for CPAP systems as quickly as possible.
When the team received the call to see if they could assist with the project, they quickly reviewed existing parts to see what they could make that would do the same job. Four prototypes later and they had a system that made the bracket with two tools so that production could run simultaneously and cut down the time needed. They also managed to increase the speed of production while ensuring accuracy remained high, something that can be an issue with 3D printing. That’s where their expertise in traditional systems such as CNC machining helped.
Experience from other projects
The company also found that lessons learned from other, seemingly unrelated projects, helped with this one. Their work with Italian engineers Isinnova played a part – here they were making ‘Easybreath’ snorkelling equipment but that helped with the creation of valves for the ventilator mask as well easy shipment and assembly of kits. Another partnership with AusDiagnostics meant that Protolabs were able to produce a series of plastic cassettes that house a critical medical solution used for testing to see if a patient has COVID-19. By producing an initial 500 parts sample, Protolabs were then able to work with the molecular diagnostic specialist and can now produce 20,000 cassettes at a time. The company said it is proud that the commitment and expertise of the team mean they have been able to help supply these crucial parts and to contribute to the equipment needed to care for patients.
Supporting the NHS
Protolabs is just one of the many companies who are turning their skills and equipment to help the NHS and health services around the world with the fight against coronavirus. By using the latest in techniques, such as 3D printing, along with tried and tested approaches, it is possible that there are many solutions to the most complex problems. As technology develops, more solutions to existing problems may also be found in unlikely places as companies learn to broaden their horizons and find new uses for their systems.