Czech automobile manufacture ŠKODA revealed that it is using its in-house Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing equipment to help in the production of respirators for front-line medical staff. Developed by the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics (CIIRC) at the Czech Technical University, the respirator is designed to be reusable and could help protect doctors and nurses from COVID-19 exposure.
On the development side, the respirator, called CIIRC RP95-3D, was rapidly iterated and certified. According to ŠKODA, the CIIRC was able to have a validated design ready within about a week. The piece of personal protective equipment houses a replaceable P3 external filter, which means the mask part can be reused. The mask can also be sterilized using a steam sterilizer and can be disinfected by being sprayed with an alcohol-based disinfectant solution (85% ethanol).
The CIIRC RP95-3D respirator is specifically designed to be 3D printed using HP’s Jet Fusion 4200 or 5200 series, so the Czech researchers have issued a call to all those with the AM equipment in house. ŠKODA is one such company.
“The Czech Technical University opted for Multi Jet Fusion using the polyamide PA-12,” explained David Vaněk, Head of EGV, the prototype and model construction department at ŠKODA. “This printing method ensures you get a homogeneous material that does not have distinct layers and is not porous. That is key, because it means traces of the virus do not remain in it and it’s easy to disinfect.”
At ŠKODA, Vaněk and his team first 3D printed a series of five test respirators. Once these were completed successfully, the automotive company quickly moved ahead, printing a larger series. Eventually, the team optimized the process so that ŠKODA could produce 60 mask units in a single batch. The production process has also been certified to ensure consistency, which is critical when producing a medical-grade component. Martin Sova said: “This repeatability is extremely important for certification, as only a mask made in this way qualifies for certification.”
“Everything was fine-tuned so that the respirators in a print batch were as close as possible without affecting each other so that the printing process was as efficient as possible,” added Sova, coordinator of plastics production and the 3D printing competence centre in the prototype construction department.
Each batch of respirator masks takes about 16 hours to print, and another 16 or so hours to cool. The ŠKODA department, which once produced automotive prototypes, is now making 60 respirator sets a day. The respirator itself consists of four parts: the main mask, seal caps, the filter cartridge attachment adapter and exhalation covers. Printed parts are being sent to Czech print shop 3Dees, which is completing final assembly before deploying them to the health ministry, which distributes them based on need.
Eventually, the CIIRC hopes the respirators will be mass produced using injection molding, but the molds are still in development. In the meantime, HP’s Multi Jet Fusion process is an effective way to quickly manufacture the much-needed medical devices.
As mentioned, the printed respirator is reusable and can be sterilized. The filter component, which is replaceable, can reportedly last up to a week. The mask kit has been certified according to EN 140:1999 standards and has the same or higher degree of protection as a FFP3 class respirator.
If your company has access to HP’s 4200 or 5200 series and you are interested in 3D printing the respirator sets, the CIIRC has set up a web portal here. To learn more about how additive manufacturing is being used to overcome supply chain hurdles in this time of need, visit our dedicated AM for COVID-19 forum.