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Navy, Army Partner for 3D Printing of COVID-19 Test Swabs

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine: The shipyard now has the equipment in place to produce 10,000 nasal swabs per day, with the ability for scaling up to meet an even larger demand should the need arise. Pictured, Capt. Daniel Ettlich, Shipyard Commander, signs the Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity for the production. (U.S. Navy photo by Jim Cleveland).

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity at Fort Detrick, Maryland, finalized a memorandum of agreement to support the production and delivery of 3D-printed nasopharyngeal test swabs needed to support diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

This partnership will ensure the test swabs are safe and effective for use by qualified medical professionals to support the ongoing testing efforts, officials said. The goal is that with Food and Drug Administration enforcement discretion, these swabs, once sterilized, can be used by the Defense Department in conjunction with COVID-19 testing kits that have received emergency use authorization.

Chemical engineer Alex Barbery packages newly 3D-printed nasal swabs into a medical bag at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, May 13, 2020. The shipyard now has the equipment in place to produce 10,000 nasal swabs per day, with the ability for scaling up to meet an even larger demand should the need arise. (U.S. Navy photo by Jim Cleveland/Released).

“Before the pandemic hit, Portsmouth’s Innovation Project was working with Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific to develop additive manufacturing of parts for use on submarines,” said Joe Murphy, the innovation project’s superintendent. “Through these partnerships, we were able to emulate the process of 3D printing [nasopharyngeal test swabs] to assist in the response to this virus.”

Naval Sea Systems Command originally introduced Portsmouth Naval Shipyard  to USAMMDA  to produce a manufacturer’s label for 3D-printed face shields being produced at Portsmouth. Now, the shipyard’s additive manufacturing community will continue to contribute to the Defense Department’s response to COVID-19 by 3D printing the nasal swabs.

The 3D printers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, are fitted to use surgical-grade resin specifically designed for Class I medical devices. The shipyard now has the equipment in place to produce 10,000 nasal swabs per day, with the ability for scaling up to meet an even larger demand should the need arise. (U.S. Navy photo by Jim Cleveland).

These nasopharyngeal swabs are 3-D printed using surgical grade resin specifically designed for Class I medical devices, and are similar in size to a coffee stirrer. The bristled ends on the swab are designed to collect a sample from the nasal cavity. After a sample is collected, the swab is placed into a sterile vial of a testing medium, capped, and delivered to a laboratory for COVID-19 testing.

The global pandemic has resulted in a shortage of critical testing supplies. The shipyard has the infrastructure to produce up to 10,000 swabs per day. Portsmouth has used its full spectrum of in-house support, officials noted, from production and quality assurance departments to the people behind the scenes procuring material and forming partnerships.

“In addition to supporting the response effort to COVID-19, the accelerated learning on this particular type of 3D printing can only come from the pressure of a crisis of this magnitude,” said Navy Capt. Daniel Ettlich, the commander of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. “This experience will benefit Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for many years to come as we move forward in developing 3D-printed submarine parts.”

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