I’ve received a detailed update from Photocentric regarding a spectacular improvement in their COVID-19 production rate.
If you recall, last week I reported on the Photocentric’s efforts to mass-produce a disposable ventilator valve. This component is, in some areas, in short supply and thus there could be interest in being able to produce them quickly.
Photocentric Ventilator Valve Production
However, it’s a very tricky part to manufacture. Its tiny airway channels are challenging for any 3D printer to produce, and essentially eliminate the possibility of production through filament-powered 3D printers.
The rough surface produced by most 3D printers could disrupt the proper airflow through the tiny channels, making some metal and SLS 3D printers also inappropriate for this application.
Even on SLA 3D printers, which do have the necessary resolution to produce tiny, smooth surfaces, there are also material challenges. Most 3D print material is not biocompatible, nor suitable for medical use due to an inability to be sterilized properly. I wrote more on 3D printing for COVID-19 challenges here.
The good news is that Photocentric produces SLA 3D printers and just happens to be a major supplier of photopolymer resin. They quickly re-engineered a resin that was indeed suitable for medical use and set about to see whether they could produce a sample ventilator valve design on their inventory of multiple SLA 3D printers.
With their large-format devices, they were able to produce near 40,000 units per week, quite an amazing result.
Photocentric Maximum Production
But now they have further optimized their process and materials and demonstrated the ability to 3D print 130 valves in only THIRTY-EIGHT MINUTES on their LC Magna device. At this rate, they could theoretically produce as many as 600,000 units per week if the same approach were used on all their equipment.
I asked how, exactly, they were able to speed up production by an incredible factor of around 10X:
“We have developed chemistry of both the vat and polymer to enable low adhesion to the build plate – this allows for 10x faster speeds than before. This also enables thinner tip supports which maintain geometric shape of the object which also improves the vat life.”
They are, however, focusing valve production on their LC Magna machine, which is currently available and deployed to many customer sites worldwide. Each of these machines could theoretically produce tens of thousands of valves per week in regions that require them.
Face Shield Production
It seems that Photocentric has learned of a different demand from their local health authorities, and is now directing the majority of their manufacturing capacity to produce face shields. They’ve created an optimized design (shown at top) that is very quick to 3D print.
How fast can these be made on Photocentric equipment? Check out this job configuration for their LC Maximus device:
Photocentric spokesperson Roxanne Ellison explains:
“We’re now experiencing a huge demand for protection face shields so, therefore, our production has adapted to delivering the mass manufacture of these. In two weeks’ time, we are aiming to turnaround 20,000 protective shield parts in a day.”
This is an excellent example of the importance of connecting with health authorities who know what is needed, where it’s needed and when it’s needed. Manufacturers need to adapt to demands, and quickly.