‘U’ researchers use 3D printing to support COVID-19 response in hospitals

April 30, 2020 | Categories: Member News

Kyle VanKoevering, assistant professor of otolaryngology, and his research team used 3D printing technology to develop a device that can support multiple patients on a single ventilator. The vent-splitter works by adjusting and monitoring pressures according to the needs of each patient on the same ventilator. University of Michigan researchers have filed for a patent while MakeMedical LLC, a local startup in an agreement with University inventors, has licensed the product, now called the VentMI device.

VanKoevering said the innovation was inspired by working at his own 3D printing lab in the University with a team able to rapidly manufacture and prototype devices. 

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of March, he said the team started brainstorming ideas focused on the need for respiratory support in hospitals. VanKoevering said he heard there were other projects geared towards creating ventilators being developed, so he wanted to develop one that could address varying needs of patients simultaneously.

“I realized that the biggest issue with a ventilator is that each patient is stuck with the exact same settings,” VanKoevering said. “If there was a way to variably control the pressure to each patient, you could really change the safety and the mechanics of ventilating these patients.”

VanKoevering explained there were many challenges at first, especially with developing a prototype and getting authorization for the device in a short span of time.

“First, it was taking sketches from my notebook and actually putting that into a design for 3D printing and then figuring out a manufacturing plan while working with the FDA to get emergency use authorization were some of the big hurdles,” VanKoevering said.

The next step of the plan is to make the device cost effective and expand internationally by introducing the device to developing countries where there is a shortage of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the things that I learned through this process is not (to) be discouraged by obstacles that come up,” VanKoevering said. “To develop anything and to mobilize any sort of idea will be encountered with tons of obstacles, no matter how you slice it … so to anybody who’s out there looking to develop something: keep your head up and keep pushing forward in spite of, you know, somebody saying contrary.”

Glenn Green, professor of otolaryngology, has collaborated with VanKoevering on 3D printing technology for years. Green said he was concerned Michigan Medicine administration would feel testing this device would be too burdensome for staff who were stressed with the health crisis.

“Our experience was exactly the opposite,” Green said. “People actually enjoy a chance to kind of fight back against this instead of just responding to the virus.” 

Green said what helped him with coming up with a useful innovation was staying away from complex ideas to avoid problems with the design, and he recommended that other innovators take a similar approach.

“There are some benefits to simplicity,” Green said. “It is easy to go down a rabbit hole of complexity with this … the more that you know what the actual needs are, the better.”

Engineering freshman Kira Biener said she became interested in 3D printing after using the technology to prototype a remote-operated underwater vehicle part in her Engineering 101 class. Biener said she thought using 3D printing was really innovative and believes the device will be extremely useful during the pandemic. 

“I think that 3D printing is extremely useful in terms of developing prototypes and practicing use of a design and making sure that it works before actual manufacturing,” Biener said. “3D printing is definitely one of the fastest ways to do that. (This device) could save a lot of lives, especially in cities that are hard hit by the pandemic.”

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at

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