06 April 2020

3Ding aids Indian medical workforce to combat COVID-19 with 3D printed PPE

by Akanksha Meena, deputy editor

India is seeing a sudden spike in the number of COVID-19 patients which is increasing by hundreds every day. The nationwide lockdown of 21 days from the midnight of 24 March 2020 is the barrier containing the virus from spreading like wildfire. The country, albeit faring better than the developed nations, lags in terms of medical resources and has a large section of the population that cannot afford basic sanitary products.

Echoing the same fact, Surendranath Reddy, CEO of 3Ding, a 3D printer manufacturer in India, says that India is facing a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) which can be anything that protects doctors from potential COVID-19 patients. 'A doctor from Delhi informed me that he met a patient 4-5 days back who turned out to be COVID-19 positive. But at the time, when he examined the patient, he was not wearing any protective equipment. There is a potential risk of the virus spreading because he met with another 30-40 patients in the next 2-3 days who in turn met with other doctors meaning that there is a risk for doctors as well. He also mentioned that doctors in reputed hospitals were using garbage bags to protect themselves. Their policy states that they can use protective equipment only when they are dealing with positive COVID-19 patients and not for someone whose results are not yet concluded,’ he says.

COVID-19 Response

Lending a hand to help the medical staff in India who are on the frontlines of battling COVID-19, Reddy, along with others, began an initiative, COVID-19 Response. ‘The idea is quite simple and it came from a community in Europe. They came up with ideas that could be quickly used to protect the medical staff. So, we built a small frame that looks like a spectacle, and there is a small viser in front of it. The idea, again, came from someone in Europe where they designed protective shields and started shipping them out. There are many open-source simple designs available to us,’ he explained.

Initially, Reddy started distributing the shields to doctors in Chennai from his head office. As wellas him, 3D printing service providers, manufacturers of 3D printers in India, and, potentially, anyone who owns a 3D printer are in this initiative together and are 3D printing protective equipment for doctors in their area.

‘This could, at least, add a small layer of protection on top of the masks they are already using. The N95 and surgical masks have a lifetime of 5-6 hours at max. But the doctors are constantly interacting with patients and there is a risk of the virus passing through a mask. These transparent shields act an additional layer of protection and doctors are happy to try it out,’ he added.

3Ding, with offices in Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, has been in the market for more than 8 years. ‘I am doing everything in my capacity and this initiative includes hundreds of other participants who are also doing the best they can. A large portion of them are doing it free of cost and the rest are selling the shields to premium hospitals that can afford it,’ he said.  

It has been over a week since it started and the number of units distributed collectively in Chennai is more than 50,000. Reddy informs that a participant in Bengaluru is producing 400-500 shields in a week and the other one in Mumbai produced 2000-3000 shields in three days. 3Ding is procuding over 10,000 shields everday and is providing them to the essential workers apart from the medical workforce who are working througout the day to ensure the safety of the citizens. Reddy informed that more than 1,00,000 sheilds being produced a day in Chennai alone. 

Print or donate a shield

‘There are two aspects of this initiative – first, anyone who owns a 3D printer can print and donate the shields to doctors in their area; second, anyone could donate a shield. With Reddy’s office in Chennai and the lockdown in the country, it is difficult for him to provide the shield across the country.

3Ding has set up a platform on its website to allow the donation of shields. The fund raised will be used to produce more protective equipment. The website has a second form where everyone who owns a 3D printer can submit their details. The database will help 3Ding to connect anyone who needs the shield with those who can provide it.

To donate a shield, visit here

Ventilator splits

Reddy with the help of  biomedical experts in Tamil Nadu and few doctors, is experimenting with 3D print ventilator splits. ‘The hospitals are using a single ventilator for multiple patients to save ventilators in case the number of patients shoot up, say by a lakh, and we run out of them. A ventilator is required when a patient is in a critical situation and is not able to breathe. We are experimenting with ventilator splits so that one ventilator can efficiently provide for multiple patients.  We hope and pray that these things remain unused while ensuring that there is some sort of backup plan available in the case that happens,’ he elaborates.

Online software for COVID-19 patients

Reddy is also personally working on software to help patients find the nearest hospital that can admit them or run tests.  ‘We have a database of quite a few hospitals and the software will allow the patient to book a simple test or see which hospital can admit them. Similarly, hospitals can accept or deny a patient and prepare beforehand for someone in a critical situation,’ he says.

The software will be in the form of a website and is likely to go live in a few days. ‘We are trying to make it mobile friendly so that people can quickly access it. There are requirements from the Maharashtra government but we haven’t presented the idea to them yet,’ Reddy adds.

Early birds in 3D printing

Reddy worked as a robotics engineer from 2010 to 2012 and started a robotics company where he created consumer-level pick-and-place robots. At the time, he was parallelly pursuing 3D printing and after a while, he dropped robotics to pursue it further.

‘We had bought 3D printers to build our robots. Back then, 3D printing was a new technology in India and nobody had access to it. There was a good demand for it but no supply. We supplied 3D printers from 2013 to 2014. When we had the technical ability to manufacture 3D printers in-house, we started manufacturing them. And, we were doing it when nobody in India thought of it, which gave us a good head start in the technology,’ he explains.

3Ding has manufactured and supplied thousands of 3D printers all over India and is exporting them as well. Apart from that, the company also provides the service of renting a 3D printer. Reddy also conducts webinars on 3D printing every Wednesday to inform and educate about the technology.

The future of 3D printing technology

Speaking about the rise of 3D printing, he says the current situation is the best example of how it is gaining momentum. It will evolve and not pick up as a single standalone technology. Combined with IoT (Internet of Things), 3D printing could reach new heights.

‘We are working on a concept for a distributive manufacturing network where you don’t have to buy something from a factory but get it manufactured locally. And what is happening right now with protective equipment is the right example for that. We are integrating multiple technologies with 3D printing and it becomes a whole eco-system and not just a stand-alone technology. That’s where I see the evolution,’ he concludes.

(Updated on: April 20, 2020)

Main picture: Surendranath Reddy with 3D printed protective shield produced on his 3D printer for medical staff in India. Photo courtesy of Surendranath Reddy

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