Italian 3D Printing Startup Creates Replacement Respirator Valves for COVID-19 Patients


The rapid spread of COVID-19 has pushed global supply chains to their breaking point — anyone who has tried to find a few rolls of toilet paper at the store can tell you that. Even more vital, life-saving items are in short supply. In Italy, a hospital was unable to get valves for its venturi oxygen masks. Luckily, a local 3d printing startup called Isinnova rode to the rescue with 3d printed replacements

A venturi mask is also known as an “air-entrainment mask.” You’ve probably seen these masks on patients who need ongoing oxygen therapy, which is something those suffering from severe coronavirus infection need. The valves control how much oxygen makes it into the mask from an external respirator, so the mask doesn’t work without one. The hospital in Chiari, Italy was unable to get enough valves, and patient care was suffering. 

Isinnova founder Cristian Fracassi heard about the shortage and contacted hospital officials to offer 3D printed parts that might work as replacements. Isinnova produced the desperately needed valves using a simple filament extrusion system. Fracassi delivered the first 100 replacement valves personally, and the hospital began using them in equipment immediately. 

Fracassi delivering the first batch of valves to a local hospital.

Eventually, another local firm called Lonati SpA was able to churn out larger numbers of valves using polymer laser powder 3D printing at a nearby facility. Both companies had to create 3D models of the valves themselves as the design is currently protected under patent. While the hospital likely has the right to produce copies during this emergency, the printer files haven’t been released to the public. 

Italy is in the midst of the most severe COVID-19 outbreak outside of China. Nearly 30,000 have been infected, and over 2,000 have died as a result. Meanwhile, global cases are nearing 200,000 with more than 7,000 deaths. Large events like Mobile World Congress, Coachella, E3, and Google I/O have been canceled. Many US states have instituted infection control measures like closing restaurants and banning large public gatherings.

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