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3D-printed valves convert snorkel gear into ventilator masks for coronavirus patients

Professional Engineering

The 'Charlotte' valve allows the conversion of snorkelling masks to attach to hospital ventilators (Credit: Protolabs)
The 'Charlotte' valve allows the conversion of snorkelling masks to attach to hospital ventilators (Credit: Protolabs)

Snorkelling masks are being converted into equipment that could provide vital support for patients with coronavirus.

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

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.

“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.”

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.

“Digital manufacturing provides incredible speed of development.”

Protolabs provides critical design, engineering and manufacturing services to medical supply chains, telecommunications providers, energy companies, water treatment services and other sectors.

The company will continue to operate at its UK and German manufacturing facilities, ensuring that staff work from home where possible and adopting hygiene and social distancing measures.

“Protolabs employees play a vital role in helping us support the needs of our customers in what is a generation-defining moment,” said Klaas. “I am extremely proud of the commitment and expertise everyone is showing, and I am humbled that, in our own way, we can contribute to saving lives across the world.”


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