Expert Interview: NMBU’s Kristian Omberg on How it is Manufacturing Medical Supplies Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
15 April 2020
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has caused medical supply shortages around the world. In this time of need, the 3D printing community has mobilised to support the medical facilities in dire need of medical supplies. One example of this comes from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), located in Oslo.
Using the university’s 3D printing lab, NMBU students are designing and producing protective medical equipment to help address the escalating medical supply issues in Norway.
We speak with NMBU’s Senior Engineer, Kristian Omberg, to discuss how the university is producing medical supplies to help combat the crisis, why 3D printing plays a key role and how it is using AMFG’s MES software to support its initiatives during this critical time.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and the work NMBU is currently doing with regard to the coronavirus pandemic?
I’m a lecturer here at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. I teach around 250 students a year across five different courses related to digital production, design technology and industrial cooperation.
At the moment, our focus is on innovation, industrial cooperation and, for obvious reasons, healthcare, which is currently in dire need when it comes to medical supplies.
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been developing and producing new medical supplies as well as handing these projects over to different organisations, including government organisations.
How does NMBU typically use 3D printing?
We actively use 3D printing as part of teaching our students. It enables us to encourage the students to start experimenting and producing with the technology.
We also conduct research projects on 3D printing, including microfluidics. Many companies want to learn more about additive manufacturing, and Norwegian universities like ours play an important role in showcasing the technology and helping these companies obtain general competence in additive manufacturing.
How did NMBU get involved in the response efforts to the current coronavirus crisis?
Our involvement began when universities in Norway were formally shut down due to the pandemic.
It quickly became obvious that there was a real shortage of medical supplies and the government started to encourage everybody to do their part to help tackle the short-term shortage of supplies.
After getting more information on the products that were most in need, we involved our students in our response efforts.
We have some really innovative students who were able to design protective medical equipment, including protective shields and safety goggles, as well as buttons for protective medical clothing for doctors and nurses.
Using these designs, we used our 3D printers to produce the first prototypes and presented them to government officials. They were very excited about the result and now we are beginning to scale the 3D printing production of these medical supplies.
What value does 3D printing offer when it comes to crises like the one we’re currently experiencing?
In our case, we use 3D printing for product development and laser cutting for production.
However, in order to create a highly manufacturable product, you need to go through several design iterations, and 3D printing is the most flexible technology for this purpose.
For example, with laser cutting, you can only do one iteration at a time, but with 3D printing, we were able to develop a whole new product in roughly 24 hours, which is incredibly fast. This is really important when you have medical supplies that are in high demand.
How are you using software in this process?
We’re using AMFG’s MES software to process our ordering and production.
We have a group of administrators who oversee the entire process. Our goal is to allow students to order 3D-printed parts through the AMFG platform.
This means that when they need iterations of their designs, they can send their files directly to be 3D printed. The designs will be then sent to our production manager, who oversees production. We also have a group responsible for quality assurance.
Once a part has been 3D-printed, it is sent back to the student.
We tried doing this last year without an ordering platform, and the process quickly became a mess, with a mass of emails and communications.
With AMFG’s software, things are much simpler. While we’ve only just started to use the software, we’re already seeing the added value of it. For example, having the ordering platform has increased our 3D printing capacity almost 20-fold.
It’s also a great tool for students that are designing products from home. The software gives us an efficient and lean way to handle the R&D projects from students and allows us to go through up to 30 iterations in 24 hours.
We’re really grateful to have a tool in place that enables us to support our country during the pandemic. We think that could be a great showcase for other countries in Europe as well.
What impact do you think 3D printing will have going forward?
The response to the crisis in Norway has been incredible — I believe there are around 7,000 people who are now producing medical equipment for the government, all nonprofit, including NMBU.
This availability opens up a new dimension, in terms of making it possible to contribute during a crisis. It’s a paradigm shift when it comes to public contribution in times of crisis.
How do you see your use of 3D printing evolving?
We have over 5,000 students in our university and our goal is to make 3D printing available to all of them. We believe that our new MES system will help us finally achieve this goal.
To learn more about NMBU, visit: https://www.nmbu.no/en