ELIX Polymers joins the fight against COVID-19 with biocompatible ABS grades for medical devices

Leading ABS producer ELIX Polymers is collaborating with a large group of companies within ClusterMAV, the Advanced Materials Cluster of Catalonia, Spain, in the fight against COVID-19. The partners are working in collaboration with the National Federation of Innovative Business Groups and Clusters (FENAEIC), which focuses on promoting collaboration between federations, clusters and their partners, within the European Cluster collaboration platform.

ELIX Polymers is donating a medical-grade material, ELIX ABS 3D-FC, in response to high demand from hospitals for medical masks, valves for ventilators and other medical devices. This product, developed for transformation into filaments for FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) 3D printing, is now being used by Ford Motor Company (which has switched some of its production in automobiles to medical equipment), research organization AIMPLAS, and two Spanish plastics processors, PESL and SIIM.

Materials developed by ELIX Polymers for the healthcare sector are compliant with the ISO 10993 and USP class VI biocompatibility standards. They have been included in Drug Master Files (DMF) for use in medical and food contact applications in both Europe and the USA.

“Many companies with 3D printing capability are putting their equipment at the disposal of the community to produce medical parts,” says Luca Chiochia, – Business Development Manager at ELIX Polymers. “Demand for 3D printing filaments in Spain is being channelled through the 3Dcovid19.tech digital platform, an initiative linking hospitals’ needs and 3D printing production resources, as well as ClusterMAV, and FENAEIC. Ford and Aimplas are both producing filaments in ELIX ABS 3D-FC, and are also making masks and face protection components in their own AM departments.”

Ford is using 15 3D printers at its facility in Valencia to produce protective face shields at a rate of 300 units a day. Filaments, produced on extruders operated by volunteer employees, are used to print head supports for protective face shields. Assembled shields are shipped to an ozone disinfection centre coordinated by the Ministry of Health in Valencia and then distributed to hospitals and care homes.

Logistic support of the 3Dcovid19.tech initiative, in coordination with leading plastics distributor Nexeo Plastics in Barcelona, is enabling distribution of ELIX ABS 3D-FC filaments to several 3D printing companies in the network. They are producing various parts that are in high demand, including ventilator adaptors and manifolds. One such company is Noumena, a tech company that specialises in the manufacture of additives and uses ELIX ABS 3D-FC in its WASP 3D printing machines to produce different types of protective masks with interchangeable filters for the subsequent supply thereof to hospitals. In some cases, injection moulding is also being used; for this, ELIX Polymers is providing another medical grade, ELIX ABS M203-FC.

Fabian Herter, – Marketing Manager at ELIX Polymers, says: “The availability of specific moulds that could be used for such medical applications has been the key factor, together with the availability of material, to make the injection moulding production feasible so that production volumes can be easily ramped up. But 3D printing has been key in enabling the fast delivery of a solution: it is extremely versatile, so it can produce highly diverse medical device components, without the need for specific tooling. Plus, production can be carried out very close to the hospitals.”

ELIX ABS 3D-FC is being processed on several brands of 3D printers, including open-chamber types like Prusa and Ultimaker, and closed-chamber printers like WASP. Temperature fluctuation is reduced in a closed chamber, but open-chamber 3D printers have also given excellent results.

The downloadable printing profile for ELIX ABS 3D-FC, which is compatible with Cura software widely used in FFF 3D printing, has helped in identifying the most suitable settings for the material; standard Prusa settings for ABS have also been useful.

With a reduced layer height (0.15mm), it is possible to achieve very good part resolution with ELIX ABS 3D-FC. With an Ultimaker 3, for example, the material can be printed at the recommended ABS processing temperature. Good adhesion between the first layers of material and the build plate is achieved with a spray adhesive.

The performance characteristics of ABS, together with the fact that it can be adapted and customised to meet each specific need in its final use, as well as the safety and reliability of the different types of ABS manufactured by ELIX, have made it an essential material for many medical equipment manufacturers.