Makers and 3D printers against coronavirus: in Italy they are using 3D printed Open Source valves for respirators in ICUs

Last Friday a terrible situation occurred in the Chiari hospital in Brescia (Italy). The fight against the coronavirus was in danger because there were no more valves to use in the respirators, critical for the ICUs in which the most severe patients were being treated for the disease.

The manufacturer of these valves did not have enough time to provide replacement valves. "What do we do now?" The hospital officials asked themselves. The answer came from a unique idea: they ended up contacting a well-known representative of the maker community in Italy, who managed to activate an effort to bring a 3D printer to the hospital. Hours later, as the Italian newspaper La Stampa notes, the original valve design had been replicated and was functional: the respirators could continue to function.

3D printers against coronavirus

Upon detecting the problem and not being able to count on the original valve replacements, the medical team thought about reproducing them with a 3D printer.They contacted the newspaper Giornale di Brescia, whose editor, Nunzia Vallini, immediately contacted the physicist Massimo Temporelli, a leading maker in Italy, founder of FabLab, who had collaborated with them on technology issues.

Temporelli's laboratories in Milan were closed and too far away, but two engineers from Brescia named Cristian Fracassi (@CristianFracass) and Alessandro Ramaioli (wearing a mask in one of the images), owners of a 3D printer, were able to get it to the hospital in time . After studying the original design and reproducing it, in a few hours the hospital in Brescia was able to manufacture 3D printed valves that confirmed to be functional.

As indicated in La Stampa, the design had a problem: these valves would need a sanitary certification from regulatory bodies, but as Temporelli said "when there is no time and people risk their lives, we cannot stop before the bureaucracy." According to La Stampa, the original valve manufacturer declined to share the valve design and schematics, something that would have sped up the entire process.

According to the aforementioned Giornale di Brescia, in a few hours they had a prototype created in 3D that they presented to the general manager of the Chiari hospital, Mauro Borelli. With 50 of these valves manufactured, he confirmed that those devices worked.

Borelli himself explained that the valves are actually a design derived from the "Venturi tube, a hydraulic invention dating back to the 18th century." One of the first patients to receive treatment with these 3D-printed valves was Antonio, 60, who had been admitted for coronavirus days earlier. According to the newspaper, the diagnosis appears to be positive thanks to this small miracle of technology.

Makers' efforts grow everywhere

The example of these Italian engineers has meant that other initiatives have also arisen in this direction elsewhere. In Spain, for example, references from the maker community such as @elsatch —co-founder of Makespace Madrid— and David Cuartielles (@dcuartielles), co-founder of the Arduino platform, have been promoters of the A.I.RE platform (@ AIRE_Covid19).

This community has launched an effort to create Open Source respirators and fans. The forum of this community of experts invites anyone to collaborate in an effort where specifications and technical characteristics of the prototypes are being discussed to try to offer that alternative if necessary.

There, for example, projects such as the one carried out in 2010 at MIT (PDF) are discussed, which have also had repercussions and much debate on Reddit. Other communities in the United States such as Project Open Air are using, for example, a group on Slack to share ideas.

The maker community in Spain is also collaborating through this website in which they warn from the first moment that "a bad respirator or a poorly used respirator can kill", and then offer several links to Telegram groups with discussion on design and manufacture of fans, as well as links to different GitHub repositories or to models available on Thingiverse - with the presence of protective masks as protagonists - to print them in 3D.

Those responsible @lahoramaker clarified that their effort is actually one of many that different people and groups with this type of interest are trying to do to help in this situation. They told us that others like @ReesistenciaT are also working in this area in our country, but there are more efforts at the international level. Without a doubt a fantastic movement that has already begun to bear some fruit.

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