As of March 19, 2020, there are more than 41,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy, with over 3,400 deaths, which makes Italy the deadliest epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
The surging number of patients leads to serious shortage of medical staff, equipment and hospital beds. A hospital in the Lombardy region, which is a coronavirus epicenter, was running out of valves that connect the patients with the breathing machines, and its usual supplier couldn’t produce more valves in time. Amid the crisis, a group of volunteers in Italy turned to 3D printing to print valves for life-saving coronavirus treatment.
According to Alessandro Romaioli, one of the volunteers, said that the hospital tested the 3D printed valve on a patient and it worked well. It is reported that the valve originally costs over $10,000, but the 3D printed replica costs only about one dollar. Because the manufacturer refused to release the design file, the volunteers had to measure the valve and get the dimensional data for 3D printing.
3D printing is a process of building 3D objects from a digital file. It has been adopted as a production technology worldwide. Wohlers expects that the global 3D printing industry revenue will climb to $35.6 billion in 2024. 3D printing has great strengths in saving time and material, as well as delivering solid objects fast. The quality of 3D printed objects depends heavily on the accuracy of the printer and the digital file. The file can be generated through 3D scanning or 3D software modeling. 3D scanning is a faster way than 3D modeling, especially for complex shapes. For example, Revopoint’s handheld 3D scanner Handysense scans an object in 3 minutes with 0.1mm accuracy. The high efficiency and low cost of 3D scanning and 3D printing is changing the traditional way of manufacturing, though not completely replacing it.