A hospital in Brescia, Italy, was facing a crisis. It was running out of respirator valves, a crucial piece of equipment that kept its 250 patients in intensive care alive. Then a 3D-printer company came to the rescue.
A respirator valve is supposed to be used for eight hours and then discarded. That means that each respirator needed three a day. 250 patients in intensive care meant that the hospital was burning through 750 of these valves every day. The original supplier was unable to get new ones fast enough. Italian journalists Nunzia Vallini, doing a story in the hospital, learned of the shortage, and put them in contact with Cristian Fracassi, CEO of Isinnova, a 3D-printing company. Fracassi got together with his chief engineer Alessandro Romaioli. Together, they managed to create a working prototype in just three hours.
“They tested it on a patient and they told us that it worked well and so we ran again back to our office and we started to print new valves,” Romaioli said.
They joined forces with another 3D-printing company Lonati. Isinnova had only six printers and each valve took about an hour to make. With Lonati, they were able to meet the demand for the hospital in Brescia. They supply them for free, but they aren’t planning on releasing the valve design.
“The valve has very thin holes and tubes, smaller than 0.8m – it’s not easy to print the pieces,” Fracassi said about the process. “Plus you have to respect not [contaminating] the product – really it should be produced in a clinical way.”
Already they were contacted by another hospital to make valves for them as well.
“We haven’t slept for two days,” he said. “We’re trying to save lives.”