University research team, 3D printing company win Covid-19 innovation awards

Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services and Digital Economy Clayton Bartolo presents awards to the winners of the MDIA Best Tech Responses to COVID-19 Photo by Clifton Fenech (DOI).

The University of Malta’s Faculty of Engineering and 3D printing company Invent 3D have been honoured for their innovative efforts in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in an award scheme launched by the Malta Digital Innovation Authority.

The Award for Innovative Technologies in Response to COVID-19 was launched on 6 April, and the authority received a total of 23 valid submissions.

A research project headed by Marc Anthony Azzopardi, a senior lecturer at the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering within the university’s engineering faculty, won first place for the development of a UVGI mask/respirator decontaminator for front-line health workers.

The team designed and built prototype equipment that uses short-wave ultraviolet germicidal irradiation and the concomitant generation of ozone gas, in a bid to substantially reduce the viral bio-burden of up to 9 disposable face respirators concurrently in a few minutes. In doing so, it will allow such respirators to be reused in greater safety by medical personnel facing shortages.

Once delivered, the equipment will include interlocks that will prevent accidental exposure of staff to UVGI, which is associated with severe eye and skin damage.

Invent 3D won second place for the development of 3D printing and urgent manufacturing of powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) adapters, and retrofitting unusable PAPR systems with modern filtration systems whilst simultaneously improving airflow.

The company also developed ear savers to relieve the ears of surgical mask wearers as well as the development of hand sanitiser holders to put a stop to sanitiser thefts in hospital. The latest developments of the company’s efforts also included the designing of swabs, which are undergoing clinical trials, as well as medical hoods for medical professionals to wear.

Invent 3D worked in collaboration with the Central Procurement and Supplies Unit, Mater Dei Hospital and Infection Control, and the aim of its project was to have a final, medically-approved design. The advantage of 3D printing is that as soon as designs were approved, they could be instantly put into production, without the need for extra lead time or extra tooling costs.