ExOne
New Material in 3D Could Sterilize PPE for Long-Term Use

New Material in 3D Could Sterilize PPE for Long-Term Use

April 28, 2020
ExOne and the University of Pittsburgh develop reusable metal filters.

Hoping to offer long-term protection against contaminants, such as COVID-19, ExOne, a provider of binder jet 3D printing technology, teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh to develop reusable metal filters that fit into a specially designed respirator cartridge

The binder jetting technology is a high-speed form of 3D printing that can produce metal parts with specific porosity levels that can effectively filter out contaminants while allowing airflow.

ExOne has 3D printed respirator filters in two metals — copper and 316L stainless steel — and a range of porosity levels for use inside a unique cartridge designed by the Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science department in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

 “Our team has been working urgently to expedite this promising and reusable solution for medical personnel on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” said John Hartner, ExOne CEO. “Our customers routinely print porous metal filters for a variety of purposes, and we are confident that we’ll have a solution soon that can enable medical personnel to sterilize metal filters for repeated reuse, eliminating waste. Once approved, we can print these filters in a variety of sizes for respirators, ventilators, anesthesia masks, or other equipment.”

Initial testing for airflow and filtration efficiency is currently underway, and the filters are being optimized with the goal of adhering to an N95 respirator standard.

“The advantage of binder jet 3D printing over other additive manufacturing methods for this filter application is the ability to utilize the porosity of the printed part and then fine-tune it during the high-temperature densification or sintering process to achieve optimum filtering and airflow performance,” said Markus Chmielus, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the Swanson School.

ExOne’s binder jetting technology uses an industrial printhead to selectively deposit a liquid binder onto a thin layer of powdered material, layer by layer until a final object is formed. After 3D printing powdered metals, the object is then sintered in a furnace to dial in a specific level of porosity. While binder jetted metal is typically sintered to full density, some applications require a specific level of porosity, such as filters.

To test filters in different metals and porosities, Dr. Chmielus’ research group is using CT scanners to analyze the microstructure and porosity of the filters. Ansys, the global leader in engineering simulation, also based near Pittsburgh, is providing additional computer simulation support to analyze and optimize the performance of the filters.

While copper and stainless steel filters are currently being tested, copper has been known to have antibacterial properties since ancient times. The first recorded use of copper to kill germs was in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the oldest known medical document in history, according to Smithsonian.

Many studies have proven copper’s disinfectant powers. One landmark 2015 study,  funded by the Department of Defense, revealed that copper alloys contributed to a 58% reduction in infections. COVID-19 research also suggests the virus dies faster on copper than on other surfaces. 

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