Italian start-up 3D prints valves to help coronavirus patients

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian Cristian Fracassi heard about the shortage of valves used in respirators at his local hospital by word of mouth.

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The founder of Isinnova, a startup with a staff of 14 people, offered his company’s services to help ease the shortfall of equipment that has been in huge demand since the coronavirus outbreak struck Italy.

“We were told the hospital was desperately looking for more valves. They’re called Venturi valves and are impossible to find at the moment, production can’t keep up with demand,” said Fracassi, a 36-year-old engineer.

Named after Italian 18th century physicist Giovanni Battista Venturi, the valves connect oxygen masks to respirators used by coronavirus patients suffering from respiratory complications.

Italy is battling the world’s worst outbreak of coronavirus outside of China. So far 2,158 people had died of the 27,980 who have contracted the disease in the country in less than a month.

Its healthcare system is under strain due to the mounting number of patients requiring intensive care facilities.

The hospital is in Chiari, near Brescia, a prosperous northern city now in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

Fracassi and his team were able to replicate the valves using a 3D printer at Isinnova’s headquarters.

The company’s products range from hi-tech luggage for fashion brand Gucci to a special paint it is currently developing to survive temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius.

“When we heard about the shortage, we got in touch with the hospital immediately. We printed some prototypes, the hospital tested them and told us they worked,” Fracassi said. “So we printed 100 valves and I delivered them personally.”

He said he did not meet a single car as he drove through the streets, an eerie sensation caused by the transport ban in place. At least 10 patients were using equipment containing the valves by the evening.

Fracassi said it cost next to nothing to produce the valves, which weigh around 20 grams each and are made of plastic.

“I’m not going to charge the hospital ... It was the least I could do to help doctors and nurses who work all day long to save human lives.”

Reporting by Elvira Pollina; editing by Valentina Za and Mike Collett-White