Earlier this month, the CEO of an Italian 3D-printing startup learned that a hospital near the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy was running short on a small but crucial component: the valves that connect respirators to oxygen masks.
The company that makes the valves couldn't keep up with the demand, and doctors were in search of a solution.
"When we heard about the shortage, we got in touch with the hospital immediately. We printed some prototypes. The hospital tested them and told us they worked," the CEO, Cristian Fracassi, told Reuters. "So we printed 100 valves, and I delivered them personally."
Similar efforts have popped up around the world. In Liverpool, New York, Isaac Budmen and Stephanie Keefe were printing more than 300 face shields for workers at a coronavirus test site in Syracuse this week, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse. Budmen and Keefe, who run a business, Budmen Industries, selling custom 3D printers out of their home, turned to a fleet of 16 3D printers in their basement.
With medical supplies strained by the coronavirus outbreak, health care professionals and technologists are coming together online to crowdsource repairs and supplies of critical hospital equipment.
Doctors, hospital technicians and 3D-printing specialists are also using Google Docs, WhatsApp groups and online databases to trade tips for building, fixing and modifying machines like ventilators to help treat the rising number of patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The efforts come as supply shortages loom in one of the biggest challenges for health care systems around the world.
The American Hospital Association says COVID-19 could require the hospitalization of 4.8 million patients, 960,000 of whom would need ventilators. As the demand for the equipment surges, making timely repairs will be critical to saving lives.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned Friday that the city could run out of basic medical supplies in as little as two weeks.
3D printing, a relatively new and niche technology that can create everything from houses to tiny and complex structures from raw materials, has remained mostly on the fringes of the manufacturing and health care sectors, but the coronavirus has suddenly made it a crucial resource.