The S’pore company switched from making 3D printers for dental use to making swabs for Covid-19 tests, Singapore News & Top Stories

SINGAPORE – Local company Structo showed nimble footwork as it quickly moved from making and selling dental 3D printers to making swabs to help at the height of Singapore’s Covid-19 crisis.

The 3D printers were originally designed to produce surgical guides that could be adjusted to fit each patient’s teeth in a flash.

The surgical guide normally used by dentists to drill implants into teeth could be made within an hour after a few days.

When a nasopharyngeal smear smear shortage emerged in April last year, the company quickly turned to developing its own smear product in collaboration with government agencies and healthcare professionals.

Manufacturing began in June when the company produced 4.5 million swabs in three months, executive director Desmond Lim told The Straits Times on Friday April 9.

This left enough time for the supply chains to reopen and injection molding became profitable. This is a cheaper and more efficient technique for making swabs compared to 3D printing, Lim added.

Structo’s director Devansh Sharma said one of the key challenges was designing the tip for the swab.

“Traditionally, the tip is made of cotton to absorb slime, so we had to replicate the design so that the plastic could do the same thing,” he noted.

Mr. Sharma added that the process is a steep learning curve and an intense one for the company as it delves into uncharted territory.

Employing an additional 400 people to meet production needs, the company had to deploy and purchase more machines to eventually build an arsenal of 37.

President Halimah Yacob, who visited Structo’s research and development lab on Friday, said the company’s additive manufacturing technology is a “tremendous help” amid the shortage of Covid-19 test kits.

She noted that additive manufacturing is a growing area for Singapore because of its flexibility and adaptability, adding that companies wishing to venture into these areas can get support from Enterprise Singapore and other government agencies.

Now that Structo has the machines, skills and manpower to 3D print, it is exploring a “Printing as a Service” initiative that will provide solutions tailored to a customer’s needs.

These 3D printed products should ideally be mass-produced, customizable, and of great value, Sharma said.

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