As anyone who has ever studied ‘Romeo and Juliet’ knows, Italians have balconies. And, small though they may be, they use them.
In these pandemic times, Italy - the entire country - has been put on total lockdown. No concerts, no football, no dinners – public life has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. In fact, for many Italians, going out means stepping onto the balcony for a breath of air.
In an initiative that has touched the whole world, Italy has nonetheless found a way to be together. Online videos of people all over Italy singing and dancing and holding ad hoc concerts from their balconies have gone viral. Whether by agreement or spontaneous, the effect of the performances is the same: a heartwarming boost to the spirits and a reminder the country is in this together.
Today, too, 3D Printing Media Network carried an incredible story on how in one Italian hospital, plastics are helping to save the lives of critically ill corona patients.
Here's what Davide Sher has written: Additive manufacturing may be able to play a role in helping to support industrial supply chains that are affected by limitations on traditional production and imports. One thing is for sure though: 3D printing can have an immediate beneficial effect when the supply chain is completely broken. That was, fortunately, the case when a Northern Italian hospital needed a replacement valve for a reanimation device and the supplier had run out with no way to get more in a short time.
One of the biggest immediate problems that coronavirus is causing is the massive number of people who require intensive care and oxygenation in order to live through the infection long enough for their antibodies to fight it. This means that the only way to save lives at this point – beyond prevention – is to have as many working reanimation machines as possible.
Massimo Temporelli, founder of The FabLab in Milan and a very active and popular promoter of Industry 4.0 and 3D printing in Italy, reported early on Friday 13th that he was contacted by Nunzia Vallini, editor of the Giornale di Brescia, with whom he has been collaborating for several years for the dissemination of Industry 4.0 culture in schools.
She explained that the hospital in Brescia (near one of the hardest-hit regions for coronavirus infections) urgently needed valves for an intensive care device and that the supplier could not provide them in a short time. Running out of the valves would have been dramatic and some people might have lost their lives. So, she asked if it would be possible to 3D print them.
The device in question is a Venturi valve, used for a Venturi Oxygen mask. These are low-flow masks that use the Bernoulli principle to entrain room air when pure oxygen is delivered through a small orifice, resulting in a large total flow at predictable FIO2. After several phone calls to FabLabs and companies in Milan and Brescia and then, fortunately, a company in the area, Isinnova, responded to this call for help through its founder & CEO Cristian Fracassi, who brought a 3D printer directly to the hospital and, in just a few hours, redesigned and then produced the missing piece.
Next day, on the evening of Saturday 14th, Massimo reported that “the system works”. At the time of writing, 10 patients were being supported by a machine that uses a 3D printed valve. After the first valves were 3D printed using a filament extrusion system, on location at the hospital, more valves were later 3D printed by another local firm, Lonati SpA, using a polymer laser powder bed fusion process and a custom polyamide-based material.
Since then volunteers have reached out both locally and globally to offer help. There is, however, a big ‘but’ writes Sher: the model for the valve remains covered by copyright and patents. Hospitals may have a right to produce these parts in an emergency (as in this case) but, in order to legally obtain a 3D printable STL file, the hospital that requires the parts needs to present an official request.
Understandably, this has aroused anger and outrage both in and outside the 3D printing community. And according to one reader's comment, the article fails to mention the most interesting part of the story. “Before designing the 3d model, they called the company which produces the valves to ask for the 3d file. The company refused to give it to them because of patent protection. They decided to move on and modelled the piece measuring the one they had in their hands. Then they started 3d printing,” this reader pointed out.
3dbpm will continue to update this article as new information becomes available.