Denturist Eric Kukucka is hoping the same 3D printing equipment he uses to help restore smiles for his patients can do the same for frontline healthcare workers by providing them with protective masks and equipment.
Kukucka’s firm The Denture Center has produced a handful of N95 mask prototypes and valves for ventilators.
“We have the capability of manufacturing this stuff, it’s a question now of can hospitals use it,” Kukucka said.
“It has to meet the specifications and regular standards required. Someone from Windsor Regional Hospital is picking up some prototypes (Wednesday) to study to see if this works or if we need to make some modifications.”
The Windsor clinic has two 3D printing machines it normally uses to produce dental appliances and impression moulds. It also has some of the same machines, such as CNC equipment and five-axis mills, you’d find in most local tool and mould shops.
“Last Friday a fellow in the UK started a Facebook page for those in the medical and dentistry fields to look at how we could use our technology to help,” Kukucka said.
“It has grown from five people to over 1,000 around the world. Everyone is sharing ideas on what we can do to help the healthcare sector.”
The Facebook page is called https://m.facebook.com/groups/3dprintcovid19/.
After getting organized over the weekend, Kukucka said they were able to program the printers to produce their first ventilator valve in 31/2 hours Monday morning.
“We’ve produced six different prototypes of masks and single valves and quad valves for ventilators,” Kukucka said.
Initially Kukucka said they could produce one mask every one to 1.5 hours, but Wednesday they refined the process to make two at the same time. Doubling production means the clinic can now make 20 masks per day.
The printers pump out eight valves at a time and that takes three hours.
“We can make the masks bigger, smaller, wider or out of different materials,” Kukucka said.
“With our imaging technology we can even custom fit the mask to each person’s face.
“It’s just a matter of Health Canada and the hospital letting us know what they need.”
Kukucka said his organization was able to make the pivot into new production so quickly because of the extensive experience and contacts they have in digital dentistry and materials.
He was the first denturist in North America to beta test digital denture technology for Liechtenstein-based Ivocar Vivadent, one of the world leaders in dental materials and healthcare manufacturing.
Kukucka also does most of the external testing for the Danish dental imaging and software company 3Shape and the Dutch 3D printing materials and manufacturer 3D Systems.
“(3Shape) makes scanners and software,” said Kukucka, who has lectured around the globe on the use of digital technology and software in his field.
“A lot of these masks are being designed with 3Shape software.
“We also have quick access to different and the latest materials with 3D Systems.”
Kukucka said the next steps are waiting on the reviews of the prototypes by the healthcare sector and register his company on the government websites seeking firms able to make needed medical equipment.
The process of coordinating companies like Kukucka’s to form a cohesive national plan is also starting to take place.
Hamilton-based Innovation Factory, a regional innovation centre which is part of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs, launched a website (makermilitia.ca) Wednesday to help make those connections.
“We are seeing the community rally,” David Carter, executive director of Innovation Factory. “Our goal is to assist in coordinating some of that.”
Carter said the site will have three main functions:
- Link to enrol your equipment (3D printers and Laser Cutters)
- See the Projects going on you can participate in (Like Inksmith, Ontario Together, NGENs registry for Commercial Manufacturers)
- Provide news, information and guidance
The federal government also announced Wednesday Next Generation Manufacturing Canada will invest $50-million in funding to support companies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by building medical equipment.
Locally manufacturers are conducting regular meetings to craft a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re in the feasibility stage of can we do this?” said Canadian Association of Mold Makers President Mike Bilton. “That may take this week, possibly next week.
“We’re determining who meets ISO specs and Health Canada regulations already.”
Bilton said the second priority is determining who can supply the pieces, tools, technology and equipment to make the pieces that an already certified company could assemble into final products.
“This all could be for nothing, but we wanted to try,” Kukucka said.
“The one thing that will come out of this is people will see what amazing things are happening in Windsor. There’s lot’s of creative people sharing ideas.
“It’s going to create organic growth.”