(*1*)MIT spinout OPT Industries makes use of novel additive manufacturing methods to create intricately-designed merchandise.
Over practically seven years researching 3D printing methods in MIT’s Media Lab, Jifei Ou SM ’14, PhD ’19 started to suspect the work may result in higher merchandise. He by no means may have imagined it could assist deal with provide shortages attributable to a worldwide pandemic.
Since March of final yr, Ou’s firm, OPT Industries, has been working with hospitals to ship a brand new kind of nasal swab for Covid-19 testing. The swabs make use of skinny, hairlike constructions Ou developed whereas at MIT. Tiny woven lattices inside OPT’s swabs enable them to soak up and launch extra fluid than standard swabs.
The MIT spinout makes use of a steady manufacturing strategy that enables it to scale up printer manufacturing with demand. To date, it has provided over 800,000 swabs to plenty of health care and at-home testing organizations, serving to to satisfy a scarcity that had threatened hospitals’ testing capability.
In the 12 months since Ou realized OPT may play a task within the pandemic response, the corporate’s small staff has multiplied its manufacturing and distribution capabilities, partnered with massive health care organizations like Kaiser Permanente, and begun creating different merchandise that might profit from the corporate’s design course of.
“It’s very meaningful to be part of this effort,” Ou says. “It also feels particularly good because we’ve been developing materials with hairlike structures for a long time, so it’s like, ‘Aha, our expertise finally put to use!’”
An innovation leaves the lab
Ou’s time as a analysis assistant within the Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group culminated in a PhD for which he created new methods to design and 3D print intricate microstructures. The work required his staff to construct its personal 3D printer, create design software program, and develop particular polymers to satisfy high sturdiness and backbone necessities.
Ou obtained assist from MIT Sandbox and the E14 Fund, a Media Lab-focused funding firm. Ou additionally credit MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program for serving to him safe trade connections. Since leaving MIT, Ou’s staff has improved the throughput of the machines, enabling steady printing that led the corporate to give attention to creating versatile, textile-like supplies.
In March final yr, as hospitals across the nation started running out of the nasal swabs wanted to check for Covid-19, Ramy Arnaout ’97, a director at Beth Israel’s scientific microbiology laboratories and an affiliate professor at Harvard Medical School, despatched an e mail to his community at MIT and past trying for assist.
The following day, Ou walked into Arnaout’s workplace at Beth Israel with a prototype nasal swab his staff had put collectively in a single day. The go to was notable not solely for the short turnaround, but in addition for the precision with which the prototype was made.
OPT’s merchandise are designed utilizing algorithms that try to optimize every fiber placement. The firm’s swabs function porous microstructures inside their heads which are tuned to gather and retain fluid, then shortly launch that fluid when it enters a take a look at vial.
“When it came to the swabs we thought, ‘Hey, that’s a great fit!’” Ou remembers. “Swabs need to be soft, flexible, the structures on the tip need to be very intricate. That’s what we do.”
Ou labored with members of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and an exterior microbiology lab to check OPT’s swabs with conventional, Q-tip-like cotton swabs. The assessments confirmed that OPT’s swabs launched 20 occasions the quantity of micro organism for testing. That’s essential as a result of extra micro organism will increase the sensitivity of assessments, significantly fast assessments, in keeping with Ou.
OPT’s additive manufacturing system can produce the corporate’s hairlike microstructures in a extremely automated approach that enables OPT to compete on worth with conventional swab makers. The firm at present is ready to produce 80,000 swabs a day in its facility, and Ou says OPT is building newer variations of its machines that may produce merchandise much more shortly.
OPT has secured partnerships with massive health care organizations such because the distributor Henry Schein to get its swabs into hospitals, health clinics, and at-home testing kits.
The startup can be creating different medical sampling units that use its high bacterial assortment price to check for different illnesses. In May, OPT will transfer into a brand new workplace in Medford, Massachusetts, that can carry collectively its lab and manufacturing groups. Ou says the objective is to hurry up the cycle from product ideation to design, prototype, optimization, and manufacturing.
“We’re trying to be like [the multinational products company] 3M in additive manufacturing,” Ou says. “Everyone knows 3M because they have a lot of different products that are essential to daily life. That’s the model we’re going after. We have other medical and cosmetic products under development — the swab is just the beginning.”