3D-Printed Molds Accelerate Substitute-Ventilator Validation
Fortify’s 3D printing and injection molding expertise saved Ventilator Project weeks and thousands of dollars as the nonprofit hurried to supply clinicians and hospitals at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Ventilator Project, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit sourcing alternative ventilator solutions to meet clinician and hospital demand during the coronavirus pandemic, obtained thousands of donated sleep apnea machines (such as CPAP and BiPAP devices) to serve as supplementary equipment for hospitals. Once the organization
Ventilator Project designed a T-splitter component to house the alarm, but needed to create a prototype of the final device to test in an oxygen-rich environment to receive FDA approval. This became a materials problem: the nonprofit needed to conduct efficacy and safety validation testing on the part and end-use manufacturing material — in this case, polypropylene — before it could scale up production.
Injection Molding and 3D Printing Challenges
To solve this issue, Ventilator Project partnered with Fortify, a digital manufacturing company based in Boston. Ventilator Project came to Fortify with two T-splitter designs that it wanted to test.
Lowering Costs with a 3D-Printed Injection Mold
Rather than design and build two full conventional molds, Fortify’s applications engineering team designed and 3D
The team’s ability to print the inserts simultaneously alongside the mold added no extra time to the build and only added an additional $30 to the cost.
Especially important in saving time and cost was the ability to 3D print threaded inserts. Threads are typically challenging to prototype due to long lead times — even an off-the-shelf insert can take one or two weeks to source, and several quotes for the custom thread Ventilator Project needed clocked in at six weeks. A threaded insert can also add an additional $1,000-$2,000 to the cost of the tool, depending on the complexity of the part ejection method. By contrast, Fortify’s 3D-printed threaded insert added minimal time and cost to the project.
The two-piece assembly of the inserts streamlined production by minimizing both the material needed to 3D print molds for each geometry and the required force for finished part ejection, reducing the required force enough that the team could remove finished parts by hand.
T-splitters made with the 3D-printed mold tooling met Ventilator Project’s requirements for fit, form and function while enabling validation testing using injection-molded polypropylene — all while saving thousands of dollars and weeks of lead time compared to traditional aluminum tooling.
In the end, where traditional aluminum tooling would have cost $4,000 and taken between three to six weeks of lead time, the 3D-printed molds produced by Fortify only cost $700 with a lead time of seven days. With these benefits, Ventilator Project was able to select one design with maximum confidence — partnering again with Fortify to run those inserts on the company’s in-house press.
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