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AIC offers 3D printing to health authorities

Airflow: The Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association’s recently launched Auto Innovation Centre in Melbourne could soon be 3D printing medical ventilator components rather than automotive prototype parts.

COVID-19 response could be first deployment of 3D printing at Auto Innovation Centre

26 Mar 2020

THE Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) has approached health authorities with an offer of services and support related to 3D printing of medical-grade parts at the Auto Innovation Centre (AIC) that opened in Melbourne last year.


3D printing technology – also known as additive manufacturing – has played a significant role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, from quarantine booths to personal door handle shields and hand sanitiser clasps designed to prevent people from touching contaminated surfaces as well as quickly responding to medical equipment shortages.


The AIC’s just-established Additive Manufacturing Centre has a trio of 3D printing machines, including an HP Jet Fusion 580 for small production runs of strong, intricate multi-coloured parts.


A 3D Systems Figure 4 is more suited to short production runs and small part prototyping of parts that would usually be injection moulded and a Stratasys F370 is for quickly producing larger objects where detailed surface finishes are not a priority.


AIC managing director Luke Truskinger told GoAuto the AAAA’s government relations department had been in contact with state and government departments to inform them of the AIC’s 3D printing capabilities.


“We have made it known to them that when there is a requirement, the AIC does have three 3D printers at our disposal that can be prioritised for 100 per cent use for producing equipment that will assist with emergency needs,” he said.


Of the three machines – that have a combined value of around $400,000 – Mr Truskinger said the HP unit was most likely to be deployed because the Jet Fusion 580 model carried material certifications for external medical use.


“The HP produces incredibly strong and flexible parts, which makes it probably the most sought-after machine I would think, judging by what I’ve seen the ventilators could potentially look like and how they should work,” he said.


“Its material capabilities far exceed a lot of other machines that are out there; it also does colour, so if there was a need have identifying marks on it for usage reasons or labelling then we could print in colour, which is a unique thing for that printer.”


The Stratasys and Figure 4 machines may also prove useful, according to Mr Truskinger.


“We have three different technologies for three different things, so depending on the component, we hopefully have availability to support it,” he said.


Mr Truskinger also agreed that production of emergency parts could be the first “mainstream jobs” for AIC’s 3D printers.


At this stage, technologies and capabilities among Australian manufacturers and engineering firms are being assessed before official requests are made to participate in emergency production.


“I don’t know where everyone else is sitting with this at the moment but I think at the moment everyone is putting their hand up to say they can help and then (government) are trying to verify what they need them to do,” said Mr Truskinger.


“I’ve had 3D printer suppliers and other companies call me and I think they’re all in a similar spot.”


Asked if AIC had any other capabilities that could potentially be deployed, Mr Truskinger said the facility’s ADAS calibration or on-board diagnostics capabilities would be made available if and when needed.


“I can’t see the link there, but we’d definitely help wherever required,” he said.


“There might not be CAD drawings of a particular component that needs producing, so we could scan it and print it, effectively reverse engineer it.


“It really depends what comes out of the woodwork and we will help in whatever shape or form.”


3D printing of medical supplies hit the headlines when small additive manufacturing companies in northern Italy responded to a local hospital running out of respirator valves by quickly producing clones – and are reportedly now facing legal action from the patent owner.


There are also reports of 3D printing ‘farms’ being established using equipment donated by businesses and individuals to create production lines.


In addition to ventilator parts, components for COVID-19 test kits are being 3D printed along with face shields, goggles and masks.


As reported, the AusTender website published a request for information (RFI) on March 15 “seeking information on domestic production capabilities relevant to a range of medical PPE (personal protective equipment), including surgical gowns, gloves, goggles, hand sanitisers, clinical waste bags, waste bag closure devices (ties), blood and fluid spill kits, mask fit test kits and thermometers”.


Australia’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) also launched a portal for local manufacturers, suppliers and people skilled in design, engineering or manufacturing to register their competencies and expressions of interest to support COVID-19 response efforts.


Using the information gained via the portal, AMGC aims to support manufacturers that want to contribute but lack certain skills or equipment.


AMGC managing director Jens Gennemann said the portal will enable the organisation “to gain a clear understanding of the skills, supplies and capabilities that exist right now, and potentially connect them with the right government department or manufacturer”.


“Manufacturers are already putting their hand up saying ‘I could supply goods to support COVID-19 efforts, but I have some gaps in equipment, knowledge or processes’ – in some instances we’ve been able to assist in these linkages via AMGC’s expansive network.”


Further afield, the European Association for Additive Manufacturing (CECIMO) issued a call for action to members and the broader additive manufacturing industry after being asked by the European Commission (EC) to “address its membership and query if it would be able to aid in producing equipment”.


CECIMO also welcomed comments by EC commissioner for internal market and services Thierry Breton that 3D printing was among the measures that could reduce supply chain disruptions and equipment shortages, and that the EC would protect participating companies from potential legal issues over intellectual property.


Similarly, the United States department of health and human services has requested proposals for rapid development of “diagnostics, vaccines, or therapeutics, many of which will be developed using existing platform technologies to permit rapid development”.

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