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Belfast 3D printing firm sends swabs to US as it diversifies during coronavirus pandemic


A face shield made by Axial 3D

A face shield made by Axial 3D

Niall Haslam

Niall Haslam

A face shield made by Axial 3D

A 3D printing firm in Belfast specialising in medical devices has sent tens of thousands of swabs for testing for coronavirus to the US.

Axial3D, which employs 25 people, has pivoted away from its usual work of providing 3D models for surgeons into making items for the fight against Covid-19. That has involved making parts for test kits, masks, face shields and ventilators.

And as well as sending swabs for nasal testing for the virus to the US, it's distributed 30,000 face shields made though its 3D printing technology.

To help with distribution it joined forces with Locate a Locum, which works with pharmacies, and taxi service FonaCab.

Axial3D chief technology officer Niall Haslam said: "Our core expertise is in medical visualisation, using two-dimensional images in the making of 3D printed objects and anatomical models for surgeons."

Most of the company's staff are from a biomedical engineering or medical devices background, he said.

"We're quite a small company and we're really quite dynamic, quick and agile. We turn out one-off, patient-bespoke models for surgeons. We're used to working under tight timelines and making sure things are of high quality so it's been really interesting going through making things to help against Covid-19."

The face shields have been used around the UK.

"We work with the NHS across the UK, with our face shields going out as far as Hampshire. Other bits have been used locally, then we've also sent parts including tens of thousands of nasal swabs all over the US, though mostly the East Coast," added Mr Haslam.

He said companies in the biosciences sector had responded well to the crisis. "It's shown that we are very dynamic here. A number of companies really have risen to the challenge and shown great agility. A strong connection to the US has helped, and it's also been really quite collaborative, which is encouraging."

But he said the company was looking forward to returning to its core work.

"Our anatomical models can help speed up operations. A lot of elective surgeries have been cancelled due to Covid-19 so you'll see real pent-up demand afterwards so we'll be able to help increase the pace of catching-up," he said.

Belfast Telegraph