Italians 3D print ventilator parts to help battle COVID-19

March 19, 2020
Some of the 3D-printed respirator valves. Photo: Cristian Fracassi/Facebook.

Two Italian volunteers used a 3D printer to manufacture a desperately-needed ventilator component for patients stricken by the COVID-19 virus. The printed valves saved more than 10 lives in a hospital in the northern Italian city of Brescia.

"There were people whose lives were in danger, and we acted," Cristian Fracassi, who along with fellow volunteer Alessandro Ramaioli made the valves, said in a Facebook post on March 15. "Period."

Fracassi and Ramaioli were asked to assist with producing the valves after supplies from the source medical company were not forthcoming. The company, which charges $11,000 a piece for the devices, would not share the technical specifications for producing the valve, so the volunteers measured the valves and printed them themselves.

Early reports circulated that the company had threatened to sue for patent infringement, however this was subsequently denied by company representatives.

The Metro’s Faye Brown wrote on March 17 the volunteers produced an initial batch of ten, and then 100 more, all for free.

The fact that most medical technology is controlled by patents prevents vital equipment (including testing kits) being manufactured and distributed en masse and cheaply in a time of crisis. This is being laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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