Artec 3D scanners answer the call of duty in the fight against Covid-19

11/06/2020

By Matthew McMillion

In recent months, the Coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed healthcare systems and their hospitals, pushing them to the very brink. Exhausted doctors and nurses everywhere are doing the best they can with the dwindling resources available.

At the same time, industry leaders have found it difficult to respond quickly enough, often taking weeks even to make decisions about effective strategies, finding new suppliers, and retooling existing machinery to produce masks, ventilators, and air filtration systems.

But many haven’t sat still for this fight. Thousands of 3D printing enthusiasts around the globe have taken up the call to volunteer their help to support doctors and nurses and other frontline medical workers in their communities and beyond.

One such group, The Makers Group, is located in Russia, where in mid-May, the level of infections reached the 2nd highest in the world. The group started providing help across the country by designing and creating solutions for patients as well as medical staff.

3D printed tailor-made nozzles make it possible to attach air filters to a specific design of snorkeling mask, thus enhancing medical personnel’s protection against viruses

Let’s take a look at three fascinating projects they’ve recently set in motion:

Snorkeling masks for doctors and medical workers

Having trustworthy masks and other PPE (personal protective equipment) is an absolute necessity for healthcare professionals working in dangerous conditions. That said, as the weeks of the pandemic have stretched into months, in many hospitals and clinics, dwindling supplies of masks and face shields have all but disappeared.

Even if they were available, standard medical masks have their own drawbacks, not the least of which is their tendency to occasionally fail and allow contaminated air to seep in, as well as the discomfort of wearing them for many hours a day.

That’s why doctors in Russia began using a commercial brand of snorkeling mask as a replacement for standard masks and face shields. The sporting goods chain Decathlon generously donated 10,000 of these masks to Russian doctors and healthcare workers.

Unpacking one of the snorkeling masks donated by the Decathlon sporting goods chain

The mask features a tight, form-fitting seal around the face, protecting the wearer from any direct facial contact with virus particles. Yet the trouble with this off-the-shelf solution lies in the air tube connector atop the mask: there’s no filter. This means that air entering into the mask via this route could very well contain the virus.

In response to this vulnerability, The Makers Group created a custom 3D-printed nozzle to mount on the air tube connector, allowing a professional-grade air filter to be coupled to the mask.

Perfect fit: The black 3D-printed nozzle securely connects the mask with the air filter

And when it was discovered that larger doctors found it more difficult to breathe through just one air filter, a dual-pipe solution was created to allow two filters to be attached.

One of the customized snorkeling masks, with a dual-filter system

Now all the air entering into the mask is filtered and safe for breathing. These single and double filter nozzles have already been 3D printed by the thousands, and are in very high demand around the country.

Fresh from the oven: a set of 3D-printed dual-filter connectors ready to be mounted atop the masks

Yet one problem remained with the mask. Since it was originally designed for use in water, it features a drain valve situated at the bottom of the mask. This was designed to let any water escape from the mask in the event that some slipped in during a dive.

A snorkeling mask, with the drain valve highlighted

But in a hospital environment, especially one with a viral threat, this valve could potentially allow some infected air to enter into the mask. The Maker’s Group put their heads together and searched for various ways to solve this problem. It was quickly decided that due to the complexity of the mask, only 3D scanning would give them the right foundation from which to work.

Artec 3D’s Denis Baev volunteered to help. Since the masks were in extremely high demand, there was a window of only five minutes max for the scanning to be done. After that, the doctor would need the mask back, so he could continue his long shift.

The drain valve part of the mask scanned by Artec 3D’s Denis Baev

Using the Artec Space Spider, a professional handheld 3D scanner designed for capturing objects with complex geometries and high volumes of detail, Denis scanned the entire mask in high-resolution 3D in less than one minute. Because of the mask’s translucent plastic, Krylon matting spray was used prior to the scanning.

The Space Spider handheld 3D scanner

Even with the spray, the mask’s surface was still complicating the scanning, and so Denis increased the sensitivity of the Space Spider, which is rarely ever done. With this level of sensitivity, the scanner quickly captured the mask.

Following this, the scans were processed in Artec Studio 15 in three minutes and exported to Geomagic Design X as an STL file. Design X’s Automatic Mesh-to-CAD feature quickly transformed the STL file into a functional CAD model.

Space Spider scan of the lower part of the mask w/drain valve (left) and its CAD model (right)

Using this CAD model, other enthusiasts in The Makers Group created a perfectly-fitting attachment for the mask which houses a one-way valve, thus solving the problem.

Now, any time excessive pressure builds up within the mask, the one-way valve allows the escape of air from within, immediately forming a tight seal afterwards, thus preventing any possibly contaminated air from entering in.

Ready for use: 3D printed one-way valve attachment and mask

Doctors across Russia are now wearing their snorkeling-turned-medical masks with this drain valve attachment firmly in place every day.

Gel pillows for Covid-19 patients

Doctors quickly found that placing Covid-19 patients with pneumonia in the prone position (also referred to as “proning”) made it much easier for them to breathe and also for doctors to assist them with mechanical ventilation. Yet lying face down on a pillow or bed can result in the patient developing fiercely painful bedsores in a matter of only 4-5 hours.

Fortunately, there are special gel pillows designed to comfortably support a patient’s face while they’re lying in the prone position. The trouble is that such pillows have recently been next to impossible to find. Even if available in small quantities, their prices put them well out of reach of the hospitals that so desperately need them.

The Makers Group tried various ways to create such gel pillows, including using CAD design and 3D printing, but because of the unique organic, anatomically-conforming shape of the pillow, as well as its soft, supportive material, satisfactory results simply couldn’t be achieved.

Luckily enough, one patient at a hospital offered to loan his gel pillow to the cause. It couldn’t leave the hospital and there was only 2-3 minutes before it had to be returned to the patient. But that would be enough.

In order to quickly capture the pillow, with its semi-translucent surface, Denis first coated the pillow with Cyclododecane spray to give it a white matte finish and make it more scannable. Artec Eva scanned the pillow in just seconds, capturing all its surfaces and contours at 16 frames per second.

Scanning the gel pillow with the Artec Eva handheld 3D scanner

Using Artec Studio software, in just two minutes, the scans were transformed into an STL file. The processing workflow consisted of Global Registration, Sharp Fusion, Small Object Filter, Mesh Simplification, and the Eraser tool at the very end.

The STL file was then sent to the doctor working with The Makers Group on the design of the pillow. From there, the STL file was turned into a CAD model, which was then used to create a mold for making the pillows.

STL model (left) and CAD model of the gel pillow (right)

The final 3D printed mold consists of three separate pieces, and quite a lot of work was required to achieve the much-hoped-for results. For the filling, soft, medical-grade silicone was next to impossible to find. After much searching, Georgy Serezhkin at Artec Gold Reseller Globatek came to the rescue, putting the designers in contact with a supplier for the right material, a soft gel which would retain the needed shape, while also being safe and hypoallergenic for long-term patient use.

Now, with everything in place, the first test pillows have already been made and are currently in use. The plan is to increase production and roll out the pillows on a wider scale, to supply them to as many patients as possible.

Foam prototype of the gel pillow

Improvised personal air filtration system

Having a portable, active air filtration system is a rare possibility for thousands of doctors and healthcare professionals today. Yet it’s a highly effective one. Even the best masks with filters can be a challenge to wear for many hours a day, particularly when you’re more physically active and need to breathe more.

Not to mention that masks, including medical-grade, are known to fail from time to time. It’s been proven that the increased resistance from professional air filters can cause leakage at either the mask’s edges or the face seal. As well, with time, standard mask filters often become blocked and contaminated.

A portable air filtration system cleans the air of viruses and bacteria, and pumps this purified air directly to the wearer. But even if such devices were available locally (they’re not), they would be well out of the price range of medical professionals, most of whom have to pay for their own masks and protective equipment.

A simple air filtration system

Once The Makers Group found out about this pressing need, they went to work. With some of the brightest engineering minds across the country, the group came up with an improvised air filtration system that uses surplus parts. It’s surprisingly effective and can be made and distributed quickly.

The improvised air filtration system designed by The Makers Group

Housed in a plastic sandwich box, the heart of the system consists of a vacuum cleaner filter, a UV lamp to kill viruses and bacteria, and a PC fan for blowing the purified air to the wearer. The power source for this device is a built-in rechargeable battery with a charging mount.

But the size of the battery box was bulky and cumbersome for busy doctors in crowded and highly-active hospital settings. So The Makers Group went back to work, focused on reducing the size of the box, while retaining the same functionality.

Close-up of the rechargeable battery box

They asked Denis to scan the small device with Space Spider, so a 3D model could be made. Even though at first glance the object looks simple enough, from a 3D scanning perspective, it’s a challenging one. Made of black plastic, with recessed areas on both sides of the charging prongs, these inner walls proved themselves to be troublesome to capture.

After a few attempts, the right inner wall was captured, while the left inner wall still wasn’t amenable to being scanned. This was due to its close proximity to the charging prongs, which were blocking the scanner’s view.

The solution? Denis used Artec Studio 15’s Precise Positioning and Mirroring tools to easily copy the right inner wall over to the left side and perfectly align it in place.

Minutes later, the scans were processed into a highly-accurate 3D model.

This was then sent over to The Makers Group and has been used for the ongoing development and testing of this affordable yet highly-effective air filtration device.

Once again, Artec 3D scanners have proven themselves to be invaluable tools for quickly and easily helping solve critical, real-world problems. Whether you’re scanning masks or gel pillows, digitally capturing and inspecting first manufacturing runs of ventilator components, or countless other tasks, Artec 3D has scanners to meet your every need.

Everything from digitally capturing a honey bee so perfectly that you can count its spiracles (Artec Micro), all the way up to scanning an Airbus A380 in one lazy afternoon (Artec Ray), and having a 3D model so exact that you can precisely measure the tread depth on each wheel. Whatever your object and application, we’ve got you covered.