SINGAPORE – Local company Structo showed nimble footwork when it quickly switched from manufacturing and selling 3D printers for dental use to using them to create swabs to help out at the peak of Singapore’s Covid-19 crisis.
Its 3D-printers were initially geared to producing surgical guides that can be customised to each patient’s teeth, all at lightning speed.
The surgical guide, which is typically used by dentists to drill implants into teeth, could be produced within an hour from what used to take a couple of days.
So when a shortage of nasopharyngeal swabs arose in April last year, the company swiftly pivoted to designing its own swabs in collaboration with the authorities and healthcare professionals here.
Manufacturing began in June, with the company producing 4.5 million swabs in three months, chief executive Desmond Lim told The Straits Times on Friday (April 9).
That allowed enough time for supply chains to open up again and injection moulding became viable, which is a more cost-effective and efficient technique of producing swabs compared with 3D printing, added Mr Lim.
Structo director Devansh Sharma said one of the key challenges was designing the tip for the swab.
“Traditionally, the tip is made out of cotton to absorb mucus, so we had to replicate the design such that the plastic was able to serve the same function,” he noted.
Mr Sharma added that the process was a steep learning curve and an intense one for the business, given that it was delving into unfamiliar terrain.
The company employed 400 additional workers to meet production demands and had to redeploy and buy more machines, eventually building an arsenal of 37.
President Halimah Yacob, who visited the Structo research and development lab on Friday, said the company’s additive manufacturing technology was a “tremendous help” during the shortage of Covid-19 test kits.
She noted that additive manufacturing is a growing area for Singapore due to its flexibility and adaptability, adding that companies who wish to venture into these areas can get support from Enterprise Singapore and other government agencies.
Now that Structo has the machines, capabilities and manpower for 3D printing, it is exploring a “Printing as a Service” initiative that will offer solutions tailored to a customer’s demands.
These 3D-printed products should ideally be capable of being mass-produced, customisable and of high-value, said Mr Sharma.