»Medical devices is a matter for professionals«

by Thomas Masuch — 2020/04/21

In the fight against corona, the »Medical goes Additive« network links hospitals with 3D printing capacities and promotes useful applications

A Linkedin post has caused Stefanie Brickwede's phone to practically not stop ringing for quite some time now and the working day has about 15 hours. When the managing director of the association »Mobility goes Additive e.V.« shared the EU's call to the world of additive manufacturing for support in the Corona crisis about a month ago, over 150 companies who wanted to make their contribution came forward within a very short time. In the meantime, this number has grown to 270 - including automotive and sportswear manufacturers.

In order to relieve the burden on the responsible authorities in the EU, »it quickly became clear to us that we would have to set up our own task force here,« explains Brickwede. The »Medical goes Additive« network, a division of »Mobility goes Additive«, provides information about the latest developments in the procurement of additive-manufactured medical spare parts and protective equipment in its weekly WebEx calls. These calls are also available to non-members.

Many companies and individual »makers« would flood medical institutions with requests for help. »We want to channel these requests and thus also keep the hospitals off the hook,« explains Stefanie Brickwede. For example, concrete 3D printing capacities are to be matched to the specific needs of hospitals and other institutions. To this end, Brickwede and her colleagues are in contact with numerous emergency aid organizations, homes and associations for outpatient care, a good dozen in the Berlin area alone.

First units already delivered

The network also uses these contacts to coordinate development and production for required products such as face shields. Although there are already some freely available designs for this, the 3D-printed shields are sometimes uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time. »We are therefore currently working on several prototypes, which we are developing further together with hospital staff and doctors.« The first units have now been delivered to hospitals.

Even though 3D printing allows certain products to be produced very quickly, Brickwede, whose husband is himself a doctor, emphasizes the high quality standards in medicine. This also applies to a relatively simple product such as a face shield, which consists of a 3D-printed headband and an inserted transparent foil or thin plate. »3D printing is too expensive for single-use parts, so when it comes to production you have to think about the necessary disinfection or even sterilization in clinical use.« Disinfection requires certain surfaces, sterilization at over 120 degrees Celsius in an autoclave only works with heat-resistant materials. In addition, there are European standards for medical protective equipment, »and anyone who seriously wants to deliver should look into such standards.«

Not everything that is well-intentioned is good

Brickwede warns to be particularly careful with spare parts for ventilators. »There's a lot of stuff going on the web these days, even do-it-yourself respirators.« But not everything that is well-intentioned is good: »Everyone should ask themselves whether they would let their close relatives be connected to such a device.« It is always a matter of life and death, which in extreme cases can also have a legal level, for example with regard to product liability. In this respect, »Medical goes Additive« is in an intensive exchange with specialized lawyers.

Such medical-technical components and products are in any case a matter for professionals according to Brickwede. Medical amateurs who have a 3D printer at their disposal would do better to help with less critical components. These could be protective shields for everyday life, for example. After all, employees of bus companies, supermarkets, bakeries and many more come into contact with numerous other people every day. Here too, the use of face shields makes sense. And these then have other, usually lower requirements, as they are not considered medical parts.

Medical goes Additive:

On its website »Medical goes Additive« informs about current projects and upcoming virtual sessions in the corona context. Concrete applications and useful designs are also available for download.