Inside Curaden

From idea to certified solution in just a few weeks. How 3D printed test kits can help increase the number of Covid-19 tests

Curaden’s daughter company, Coobx, helps fight the global pandemic – and it does so in a technologically innovative way.

Based in Liechtenstein, Coobx produces additive manufacturing solutions (also known as 3D printing) for various markets – including the medical market. The small but highly innovative team has found a “quick fix” on how to help slow down the spread of the pandemic: by printing several thousands of testing swabs per hour and distributing them in record-short time. The solution is called ZIPswab

We have talked to the Coobx co-founder and CEO Marco Schmid on how urgency and a worldwide demand triggered a design and developed a plan to help fight the pandemic.

Battling against the pandemic with technology

The idea to produce ZIPswab was conceived by the spread of the virus Covid-19, and as a response to a very sudden public demand. As the standard manufacturers of swabs hadn’t been able to keep up with the demand for the kits, the idea developed organically.

“Looking at our available resources, such as the machines, the know-how and our partners, we saw an opportunity in how we could help prevent the spreading of the disease so quickly.” Marco Schmid says. 

One of the greatest advantages of additive manufacturing is the ability to execute a project in a short lead-time. In the specific case of ZIPswab, and thanks to an already-built network of suppliers and partners, it took about two and a half weeks – including all the certifications – to launch the final product. In the case of classical manufacturing, this process could take several months.

Coobx has a modular production system that can produce up to five thousand swabs per hour,and if necessary, an increased capacity could be easily achieved just by adding more machines. With 3D printing, there’s no need to build multiple modules or install the automation process. In just half a day one can set up the machine and start producing. “In the past, the testing devices were produced over several production steps and in multiple parts. Now we know how to print them in one piece, which is only possible if you know how to use the 3D printing technology properly.” 

While the engineering of ZIPswap was done internally, Coobx teamed up with the biggest Swiss laboratory in order to get all the tests approved in accordance with required standards. It took 10 to 20 iterations of the design to guarantee that ZIPswab is both safe to use and has the best possible comfort.

“In the past, the testing devices were produced over several production steps and in multiple parts. Now we know how to print them in one piece.”

“Mechanical tests on the finished product, the material compatibility test, the skin irritation tests, skin sensitisation tests, toxicity tests… these all must be done to be able to place a product into the market. Furthermore, ZIPswabs were also tested empirically in order to reach the best comfort.”

Apart from having to evaluate which process to set up, what machine technology to use and how to execute the production according to the special medical laws and regulations on Covid-19, “the most difficult part was bringing all of the competencies together in a satisfying way,” Marco admits.

Being able to produce a design within such a short time frame brings another advantage. If the design appears to be faulty, a print of a new design can be done within a single hour to immediately test new features. Developing a swab from a completely new material sharpened the focus to search for a solution on how to prevent the mucous membrane from being damaged and how to take enough of the specimen in the shortest possible time.

In several countries, the disease is subsiding and the need for urgent testing has calmed down. However, without a vaccine, countries face a future of bouncing in and out of lockdown every few months, with infection rates ebbing and flowing in response. Many are precautiously getting ready for the second wave, and so is Coobx, by continuing to develop and produce swabs for future needs.

“We might get to the point when everybody gets tested. For instance, in winter if someone gets the flu, he or she’ll get automatically tested for Covid-19 as we can’t tell by the symptoms which sort of virus it is.”

How a difficulty of obtaining certifications can turn to the opportunity

At the outset of the global pandemic, Marco and his team were identifying which regions to serve based on the urgency of need, but also on the ease of obtaining the regional certifications necessary to sell there. However, since then most regions’ trends have shown a shift to local production, and a propensity for a country to look at its own resources first.

“We see ourselves as a connection of their ideas, with the production possibilities.”

Therefore, Coobx came up with another solution: to sell the process rather than final products. Offering machines, methods and techniques that help other countries print their own sets of tests, and set up the processes to meet specific countries’ regulations.

Also in close touch with the national laboratories and pharmaceutical companies, Coobx is there to consult on whether their ideas will be possible to execute with 3D printing. “We see ourselves as a connection of their ideas, with the production possibilities.”

ZIPswab is a great example of how technology can provide an immediate response, and a sense of partnership to come up with an innovative health-care solution. Together with our daughter company Coobx, we’re going further in health care, far beyond the field of oral health. 3D printed swabs are now provided directly to the governments, armies and big laboratories, with direct execution to several countries around the world.