What can the additive manufacturing industry represent in regards to this global pandemic we are experiencing? The first ideas that come to mind are the ability to offer a solution when supply chains are interrupted, thanks to a more localized production, and greater automation, considering the restrictions on interpersonal contact and transport. It is also becoming increasingly evident that additive manufacturing can provide a real response to the emergency. The initiative launched by CECIMO, the European Association for the Additive Manufacturing Industry, has garnered great interest in this regard. We spoke about it exclusively with Vincenzo Belletti, CECIMO Innovation Policy Manager.
3dpbm: Can you tell us more about the call for help launched by CECIMO to companies in the sector?
Vincenzo Belletti: Our initiative was promoted and requested by the European Commission (EC), which asked us to contact the various national associations of additive manufacturing to help in the printing of valves, masks and everything that may prove to be of primary importance in the fight against COVID-19. We immediately received great participation and, thanks to 3dpbm and other media that brought a lot of attention to the news, we had an important sounding board in order to achieve our goal.
3dpbm: How did you manage the flow of requests?
VB: What we did, concretely, was to communicate all the necessary information to the companies and then to send a daily report to the EC. Our job is simply to act as an intermediary, and considering that many associations and universities have offered to use their own printers, we must inevitably deal with all financial, legal and intellectual property issues, which must be carefully evaluated at the national level by each member state, given that the Commission has no power over this. This aspect is very important especially in countries that are going through a critical moment like ours. In fact, in Italy the closure of all those activities not deemed necessary has been arranged, and for this reason it is important to be able to obtain a sort of rapid certification for anyone who can print key materials in the fight against Coronavirus, as recently happened in Brescia, for example.
3dpbm: What are the main difficulties you are facing?
VB: It is necessary to fully understand what type of masks and valves can be printed, as well as what other pieces can be printed to offer maximum support in this situation, and who needs the most support. The feeling we have is that everything is developing fast enough, so what we would suggest is that national authorities like civil protection in Italy collect requests from hospitals and publish a complete list of the necessary essential equipment, so as to facilitate their access to companies in the additive sector. The same concept applies with regards to the available designs (which are potentially infinite). In the UK, the guidelines for the production of tools such as fans have been published by the government; it would also be important to have an official reference model in Europe, so as to simplify the work.
3dpbm: How do you interface with the European Commission?
VB: Clearly we can only deal with the first step, the second step will have to be from the Commission. This is also because important financing will be needed. Many additive companies have made their services and time available free of charge, but significant costs remain for materials and transportation to be covered. We have already proposed to set up an emergency fund, but certainly time will pass between the proposal and implementation, and in any case it will not be enough. Economic resources will inevitably be needed to better face this extremely difficult health situation.