Protolabs, which has its European headquarters in Telford, Shropshire, is building valves for the ventilator mask project using its 3D printing capabilitites.

The ‘Charlotte’ valves allow snorkel masks to be hooked up to hospital ventilators, supplying oxygen and removing exhaled carbon dioxide.

Protolabs is sending them to Isinnova in Italy, which is converting Easybreath snorkelling equipment into ‘non-invasive’ ventilator masks.

The idea was first thought up by Gardone Valtrompia Hospital head physician Renato Favero, who got in touch with Isinnova, according to a blog post.

“We’re currently working on a number of customer projects that are critical to the fight against the covid-19 pandemic,” said Bjoern Klaas, vice-president and managing director of Protolabs Europe.

“The Charlotte valve in Italy is already having a really positive impact on the challenge faced by medical staff and the wider society.”

Despite the early successes, Isinnova isn’t going into production just yet. “Neither the mask nor the link are certified and their use is subject to a situation of mandatory need,” the 3D printing business pointed out. Patients still need to sign a declaration to have the uncertified device used in their care, according to Futurism.

The company is also urgently working with a molecular diagnostics specialist to produce plastic cassettes that will contain a medical solution used in testing. It will supply 500 injection-moulded parts to AusDiagnostics.

The first CAD drawings and specified material were not fit for manufacture, so they were quickly updated. Production is under way, with a planned shipping day of 9 April.

“Our latest involvement with AusDiagnostics is crucial in the national ramp-up of testing for the virus,” said Klaas. 

“The tests will be used by over 20 large NHS trust hospitals in the UK, as well as medical diagnostics centres across Europe. The customer makes almost 200 kits a day, but this figure will increase rapidly to meet the demand for more testing, with our injection-moulding line ready to manufacture 20,000 cassettes every quarter.