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Researchers use AM and laser cutting to rapidly produce medical equipment in response to Covid-19

Using components including 3D-printed parts and laser-cut gears, researchers from the Georgia Institute of technology are racing to develop healthcare equipment that can be assembled rapidly in response to the growing demand created by Covid-19.

The researchers are looking to improvise ventilators, face shields, respirators and other equipment, to help staff address the thousands of critical Covid-19 patients expected to swamp US hospitals over the next several weeks. The demand for ventilators alone could be four times more than already overwhelmed hospitals can provide. 


The Georgia Tech researchers are talking regularly with hospitals to discuss their needs, and believe they have around two weeks to get their designs right and share them with anyone who can help manufacture them.

'We’re trying to figure out how to get these things to scale in the time we have,' said Shannon Yee, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Mechanical Engineering, who is working on the ventilator issue with colleagues at Georgia Tech and other universities. 'We are looking at producing things very quickly and this is where having contacts with mature manufacturing sources is going to help.'

Using resources such as 3D printing and laser cutting, the group has already produced 1,000 face shields and is preparing to fabricate thousands more in the form of kits that hospitals can then assemble themselves. The frames for the face shields were cut using a laser from Trotec.

Georgia Tech faculty members, students and the Global Center for Medical Innovation worked on multiple face shield designs while talking with clinicians. The result was two different designs intended for specific uses in hospital facilities, where face shields protect clinicians from splashes and help extend the life of soft respirators intended to filter out virus particles.

3D-printed face shields can help extend the life of of soft respirators intended to filter out virus particles. (Credit: Georgia Tech)

To scale up fabrication beyond the Georgia Tech campus, the team focused on simple designs that could be shared with and produced by individuals with access to a makerspace – and major manufacturers with injection moulding capabilities. The team plans to make the designs available for anyone with laser cutting or 3D printing capabilities.

In addition to face shields, Leon Williams, head of the Centre for Competitive Creative Design at Cranfield University in the UK, is working with the Georgia Tech researchers to create a makeshift ventilator based on a bag-valve-mask: a hand-held mechanical resuscitation device already available at hospitals.

Through a system of laser-cut gears and other components, the preliminary concept would use a simple 3V motor to compress the bag and push air into the lungs of a critically ill patient. Among the challenges is extending the lifetime of the bags, which are not designed for long-term use.

'We need to understand everything about the ventilators that are already in use,' said Susan Margulies, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. 'By understanding how everything works, we can modify the design to use the components we can get.'

As with face shields, the group expects to make its plans widely available for other groups to iterate and produce.

Georgia Tech has established a Rapid Response website to identify needs for personal protective equipment and potential collaborations.

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