An employee of the municipality of Piraeus makes 3D printed face shields for medical workers at the Blue Lab in Piraeus, Greece, on April 15, 2020. In a hi-tech hub at the Greek port city of Piraeus, experts in new technologies are racing against time day in and day out this April to meet Greek hospitals' needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the war against the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Xinhua)
In a hi-tech hub at the Greek port city of Piraeus, experts in new technologies are racing against time day in and day out this April to meet Greek hospitals' needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the war against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As such equipment are in short supply around the world, the Blue Lab, the first business innovation center dedicated to exclusively promoting "blue growth" in Greece and launched by the municipality of Piraeus a few months ago, has switched gears.
Elias Salpeas, advisor of the municipality on new technologies and head of the lab, and his colleagues have decided to shelve their original mission to help develop a long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole, and are using their 3D printers to manufacture protective face shields for doctors and medical workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.
"We decided as a municipal authority to use the equipment we have to help the medical personnel in the war against the pandemic. So we started to make protective shields that we are now printing in our lab and distributing to hospitals in our region. Gradually we are also expanding, depending on demand," Salpeas told Xinhua during a tour of their premises on Wednesday.
Greece has diagnosed 2,192 COVID-19 cases and reported 102 deaths since the first infection in the country was confirmed on Feb. 26. Seventy-two patients are currently being treated in intensive care units, according to the Health Ministry. The need for PPE is increasing by the day as more and more infections are confirmed.
Seven 3D printers are used at Piraeus' Blue Lab to produce on average 80 such multiple-use shields per day. The lab has already distributed more than 500 shields to public hospitals in Piraeus and has received orders from hospitals across the country.
The Greek experts are using open source software made available by their Czech colleagues at Prusa Research, a 3D printing company, and tweaked it to speed up the production process, Salpeas explained.
They deliver their PPE primarily to more than a dozen referral hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients exclusively, but they also send supplies to other general hospitals to give doctors and nurses there an extra "safety net," he explained.
"The shields help a lot. The medical staff express their gratitude for the assistance we are providing and we are also happy because it feels great to know that what we are offering indeed helps," Salpeas stressed.
"We are also trying to print other things, like respirators or tools medical staff could use to open a door without touching it -- whatever we can provide to medical workers to help their war against the pandemic," the Greek expert said.
The Blue Lab's production capacity will continue to be at the disposal of the state as long as the emergency requires, but once factories reopen after the lifting of the lockdown, it will be more cost-efficient for the lab to shift to mass production, he said.
Greece has been in a nationwide lockdown since March 23. The restrictions will be relaxed on April 27, according to the government.
"In financial terms, it is more expensive to use 3D printing for mass production of an item like a face shield. 3D printing is used mainly for test-production, to create a prototype, a model, which will then be mass produced. In this case, we were obliged to use 3D printing because the factories that specialize in mass production are closed," Salpeas told Xinhua.
Stressing how important it is for everyone to step in, fill gaps and help address the common challenge, he expressed his gratitude for the helping hand the Chinese municipality of Shanghai has extended to Piraeus amidst the pandemic.
"We have been twin cities with Shanghai for several years now. During this test we are all facing, our mayor has exchanged letters of support with the mayor of Shanghai. In this very difficult period, the municipality of Shanghai has sent us 20,000 masks and through you we would really like to express our gratitude," he said, before taking off to visit the nearby Metaxa Cancer Hospital of Piraeus to offer his help and to deliver protective shields.
"Each donation made to our hospital is most welcome. It helps during this difficult period we are going through. Having proper equipment is very important," the hospital's President, Chalarampos Toumpekis, told Xinhua.
For now, Metaxa Hospital, which is not included in the list of referral hospitals for the virus, has not diagnosed a COVID-19 case, but an entire floor has been reserved for coronavirus cases if needed, he explained.
"I believe we are progressing, but we must not stop our efforts," Toumpekis said when asked about the measures taken at his hospital and at national level.
"We hope that soon the coronavirus will belong to the past," he said