COVID-19 has taken the world by complete surprise, crippling economies and bringing about wholesale changes to the way we live. As we have found out at great human cost, this virus kills without prejudice and has a staggeringly high transmission rate. It is arguably the biggest threat we have faced since WW2.
Stopping the spread of the virus and attempting to control the number of people who become infected over a short period of time led to lockdown in Great Britain on March 23 - and we are still in lockdown to this day. The nature of the beast means it’s likely we will stay in some form of lockdown for at least a few more months yet.
A light in the darkness
COVID-19 has proven to be a horrible thing. It has threatened to decimate our proudest institution, the National Health Service. It has taken those we love from us, and it has broken our freedoms.
But it has also brought out the best in people. In times of crisis, throughout history, we can find examples where our country and its people have banded together to solve problems and help others.
For engineering and manufacturing companies operating in a COVID-19 world, there has been a call to arms to plug gaps in the supply chain for medical kit and manufacture at scale equipment for healthcare workers to use on the front line.
Mologic’s rapid test kit
A great example of one such company is Mologic, who have been using 3D printing to accelerate the production of rapid test kits to help diagnose COVID-19 in patients early, so they can be quarantined faster and receive the care they need.
Mologic is a leading developer of lateral flow and rapid diagnostic technologies. They were recently awarded £1 million in funding as part of the government’s £46 million international COVID-19 prevention and research funding package.
Mologic was one of the first companies to produce rapid test kits for the global 2014 Ebola outbreak, however, their COVID-19 rapid test is better still. It enables one to get a test and a result in 10 minutes, without the need for electricity or medical supplies. Their kit is a hand-held device that can be used by almost anyone.
Choosing Formlabs 3D printers
In 2018, Mologic approached GoPrint3D seeking a way to manufacture high-precision parts for medical kit in-house that would function the same as parts produced on a factory line.
During testing, it became clear that the repeatable, high-quality parts Mologic needed would not be achievable with a Fused Filament Fabrication printer (SLA is a more advanced technology, enabling greater precision and a higher level of detail overall).
Since then, Formlabs has released their Form 3 and Form 3L printers. These advanced 3D printers use a proprietary technology called Low Force Stereolithography. LFS significantly reduces the peel forces on parts with a flexible resin tank and linear illumination. The result is an even more reliable print experience and light-touch support structure.
“Mologic currently uses Formlabs 3D printers for the prototyping of all of its test devices for COVID-19 as the system is easy to use, has a wide range of materials, and is quick.” says Adrian Walker, Biomedical Engineer at Mologic, “The production of high-quality detailed parts is invaluable to speedy device development, and the fact we can produce parts in a matter of hours with Formlabs enables us to progress quickly with our research.”
Developing the ELISA test kit with 3D printing
Mologic’s team of over 40 scientists collaborated on the design and production of the test kit to take it from prototype to production-ready in a matter of weeks.
They used Formlabs 3D printers for rapid prototyping, producing a wide series of parts designed to clip together and function like an end-use model. They were able to turnaround multiple high-precision parts within 24-hours.
In March, they achieved design freeze on the project, with their test kit ready to be manufactured and deployed. It has since been independently assessed by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and St George’s University of London (SGUL) and has been approved for manufacture with the CE mark.
The ELISA test kit is expected to produce up to 46,000 results per day, so is a potential gamechanger for rapid testing across the country. To meet demand, Mologic has recently launched a new manufacturing facility to make them.
This comes following news that UK tests passed 100,000 a day on 30 April. On passing 100,000 tests, Matt Hancock said: “I can announce that we have met our goal. The number of tests yesterday, on the last day of April, was 122,347.”
“This unprecedented expansion in British testing capability is an incredible achievement, but it is not my achievement, it is a national achievement.”
Indeed, it is companies like Mologic who have helped make it happen.
3D Printer: Formlabs printers.
All images in this article are credited to Formlabs and Mologic.