Responding to Italy's call for support, Leonardo is using its additive manufacturing technology to urgently produce respirator valves
Innovation is not just about designing winning solutions for the future; it is also about providing swift, robust and highly effective technological responses in emergency situations, which is exactly what Leonardo did when there was huge demand for ventilators in Italian hospitals as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
As the number of Covid-19 patients rapidly grew in Italy, Brescia-based Isinnova initiated a vital project to manufacture plastic valves (the so-called Charlotte and Dave valves) that could transform a specific model of diving mask into respirators for sub-intensive therapies. Isinnova publically called upon Italian manufacturers to support in developing and producing the valves in order to meet standards required by the country’s Civil Protection department and other national and international agencies involved in the management of this emergency.
Leonardo promptly offered its support to the project, which requires the use of additive manufacturing technology, commonly known as 3D printing. Leonardo’s capability was developed at its Pomigliano d’Arco Aerotech Campus (the first of the recently launched Leonardo’s Labs), and is now being fully applied at the company’s aerostructures plant in Grottaglie, Puglia, which specialises in advanced technologies for the production of carbon fibre aircraft parts. So far, over 200 valve kits have been made, with more in production.
Leonardo is also supporting Isinnova’s project at its plants in La Spezia and Livorno, manufacturing the Isinnova-designed valves and other specific components. This has enabled Leonardo’s Engineering department to produce its first 3D printing templates for the valves and test them successfully on a snorkeling mask.
Additionally, Leonardo is working with the Italian Civil Protection and Regions to conduct an extensive assessment about how other technological applications can support the Covid-19 crisis. These include the possibility of mass producing medical equipment such as Face Shields, with the first 3D printing prototypes ready in the Research and Development department at the company’s Grottaglie site.
Leonardo is also in contact with other companies that produce pulmonary ventilators for intensive care, to manufacture – through additive manufacturing – components for lung respirators and other components.
How do you 3D print a Charlotte Valve?
The manufacturing process begins with the production of a 3D CAD model of the valve, which becomes the template file for the 3D printer. The printer’s numerically controlled plotter then deposits a thermoplastic filament by following the template.
This process is carried out at high temperature before the subsequent cooling process sets the 3D printed component in its final shape. Different materials can be used to create the Charlotte and Dave valves; with Leonardo choosing PLA (Polylactic Acid) for its structural qualities, competitive price and the fact that it is biodegradable.