In early March, as the coronavirus began to spread in Italy, a hospital in the town of Chiari lacked an essential ventilator part called a "Venturi valve," the component required to connect an oxygen mask to a respirator.

Cristian Fracassi, CEO of the 3D-printing startup Issinova, and his team answered the call by reverse-engineering the valve for patients at the hospital.

The effort,which began shortly before March 14 , is one example of how makers of 3D-printing technologies are using their systems to quickly create life-saving parts and prototypes like masks, shields, and ventilator valves.

Manufacturers Step Up Production of 3D-Printed Parts

Governments are asking automakers like Volkswagen to shift from cars to medical devices.

Volkswagen has currently assembled a task force to explore how to use 3D printing to make essential medical components like hospital ventilators. Prototype components have already been printed, according to a statement from the German car manufacturer last week.

“Medical equipment is a new field for us. But as soon as we understand the requirements, and receive a blueprint, we can get started,” said Volkswagen .

In the United States, Stratasys wants to create 5,000 face shields by March 27 , at no cost to the recipients. The mask includes a 3D-printed frame and a clear plastic shield that covers the entire face.

The Eden Praire, MN-based Stratasys and its partners are producing several thousand face shields with 3D-printed plastic frames. (Image Credit: Business Wire)

Protolabs, headquartered in Maple Plain, MN, has been announcing its production orders of 3D-printed ventilator components via its Twitter account .

"Box 1 of 5 done and shipped! It includes 1,000 components for COVID-19 test kits, turned around in 24 hours to a customer working to develop and distribute kits to test centers across the country," read a Protolabs Twitter post on Friday.

Bringing Together Engineers Through Open Source

With teams all around the world looking to help hospitals and patients in need, open-source designs have led to a spirit of collaboration among engineers and manufacturers.

Using publicly available source code from a medical respirator company, researchers from Monterey Peninsula College are putting fifteen of its school's 3D printers to create face masks . The prototypes have been sent for approval to Virginia Mason Hospital in Washington state.

With the help of engineers around the world, the Open Source Ventilator Project is creating a working ventilator that can be built using 3D printers and off-the-shelf components. The "low resource, quick deployment ventilator design " utilizes a bag valve mask (BVM or Ambu-bag) as a core component.

A prototype  from the Open Source Ventilator project ’s Ireland group can be assembled from PLA plastic, and can be manufactured anywhere from a 3D printer.

OpenLung, the Open Source Ventilator group's prototype (Image Credit: Colin Keogh)

The open-source hardware project, started by a group including Irish entrepreneur Colin Keogh and Breeze Automation CEO and co-founder Gui Calavanti, produced the prototype ventilator in just seven days, after the project attracted help on Facebook from more than 300 design professionals.

The project, which allows engineers, designers, and medical practitioners to collaborate online, has brought people together to create a special device, according to industry expert Terry Wohlers.

"It introduces the possibility of manufacturing a ventilator at a much lower cost than those available on the open market," Wohlers told Tech Briefs. (Read the Wohlers Report 2020 .)

What do you think? How have you seen 3D printing (and other manufacturers) supporting efforts to stop coronavirus and COVID-19? Share your comments and questions below.