How a Telford firm is helping turn snorkel masks into ventilators for coronavirus patients

A Telford firm is contributing to the frontline fight against coronavirus by helping turn snorkelling equipment into ventilator masks.

Snorkelling masks are being converted into ventilators with key components made in Telford
Snorkelling masks are being converted into ventilators with key components made in Telford

Protolabs, which employs over 450 people in Telford, is now making valves that mean ordinary snorkel masks can be used as respiratory ventilators.

It is providing the valves for engineers in Italy who came up with the novel solution when they were contacted by doctors having to cope with a shortage of ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Engineers from Isinnova realised they could convert 'Easybreath' snorkelling masks into ventilators by adding a new valve which can be made via 3D printing.

WATCH: How snorkel mask is turned into ventilator

The 'Charlotte' valves are now being made at Protolabs' European headquarters in Halesfield and shipped to Italy where they will be made ready for medical use.

The masks and the Charlotte valve have not yet been officially certified for medical use but with other masks often not available in Italy, patients are now able to take advantage of a potentially life-saving option.

Sports shop Decathlon has donated 10,000 of the snorkelling masks to public health authorities in Italy.

Charlotte valve printing at Protolabs in Telford

Protolabs is also producing tens of thousands of components for Covid-19 testing kits that will be used at hospitals across the UK and Europe.

The company is making the plastic cassettes which blood samples will be put into ready to be tested for coronavirus.

Protolabs is making the components by injection moulding after being asked for 500 sample parts by Australian company AusDiagnostics.

The first computer-aided drawings were not fit for manufacture but have now been updated and the parts are set to be shipped by April 9.

Ricoh 3D, another Telford-based 3D printing business, has also offered its resources to help make ventilators for coronavirus patients after the Government called for UK manufacturers to step up production and help ease the shortage.

JCB is also starting production on components for ventilators at a factory usually used to make cabs for its diggers in Uttoxeter in Staffordshire.

As of Saturday the Government said 8,000 ventilators were available to NHS patients with another 8,000 expected from international manufacturers in the coming weeks.

Bjoern Klaas, vice president and managing director of Protolabs Europe, said: “We’re currently working on a number of customer projects that are critical to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic."

“The ‘Charlotte’ valve in Italy is already having a really positive impact on the challenge faced by medical staff and the wider society, whilst our latest involvement with AusDiagnostics is crucial in the national ramp up of testing for the virus.

“The tests will be used by over 20 large NHS trust hospitals in the UK, as well as medical diagnostics centres across Europe.

"The customer makes almost 200 kits a day, but this figure will increase rapidly to meet the demand for more testing, with our injection moulding line ready to manufacture 20,000 cassettes every quarter.

“Digital manufacturing provides incredible speed of development and continues to be essential in equipping frontline staff with the solutions they need.”

Protolabs continues to operate across UK and Germany but said it is enforcing social distancing measures and has as many staff as possible working from home.

Mr Klaas added: “Protolabs employees play a vital role in helping us support the needs of our customers in what is a generation-defining moment.

"I am extremely proud of the commitment and expertise everyone is showing and I am humbled that, in our own way, we can contribute to saving lives across the world.”

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