MIT spinout OPT Industries makes use of novel additive manufacturing programs to create intricately-designed merchandise.
Over practically seven years researching 3D printing programs in MIT’s Media Lab, Jifei Ou SM ’14, PhD ’19 started to suspect the work might result in higher merchandise. He by no means might have imagined it will assist deal with provide shortages brought on by a world pandemic.
Since March of final yr, Ou’s firm, OPT Industries, has been working with hospitals to ship a brand new sort 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 permit them to soak up and launch extra fluid than standard swabs.
The MIT spinout makes use of a steady manufacturing method that enables it to scale up printer manufacturing with demand. To this point, it has equipped over 800,000 swabs to a lot of well being care and at-home testing organizations, serving to to satisfy a scarcity that had threatened hospitals’ testing capability.
Within the 12 months since Ou realized OPT might play a task within the pandemic response, the corporate’s small crew has multiplied its manufacturing and distribution capabilities, partnered with massive well being care organizations like Kaiser Permanente, and begun creating different merchandise that would profit from the corporate’s design course of.
“It’s very significant to be a part of this effort,” Ou says. “It additionally feels notably good as a result of we’ve been creating supplies with hairlike constructions for a very long time, so it’s like, ‘Aha, our experience lastly put to make use of!’”
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 crew to construct its personal 3D printer, create design software program, and develop particular polymers to satisfy excessive sturdiness and backbone necessities.
Ou obtained assist from MIT Sandbox and the E14 Fund, a Media Lab-focused funding agency. Ou additionally credit MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program for serving to him safe trade connections. Since leaving MIT, Ou’s crew has improved the throughput of the machines, enabling steady printing that led the corporate to concentrate on creating versatile, textile-like supplies.
In March final yr, as hospitals across the nation started operating 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 Faculty, despatched an e-mail to his community at MIT and past searching for assist.
The next day, Ou walked into Arnaout’s workplace at Beth Israel with a prototype nasal swab his crew had put collectively in a single day. The go to was notable not just for the fast 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 corporate’s swabs characteristic porous microstructures inside their heads which might be tuned to gather and retain fluid, then rapidly launch that fluid when it enters a check vial.
“When it got here to the swabs we thought, ‘Hey, that’s an ideal match!’” Ou remembers. “Swabs should be gentle, versatile, the constructions on the tip should be very intricate. That’s what we do.”
Ou labored with members of MIT’s Middle for Bits and Atoms and an exterior microbiology lab to match 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 vital as a result of extra micro organism will increase the sensitivity of assessments, notably speedy assessments, in keeping with Ou.
OPT’s additive manufacturing system can produce the corporate’s hairlike microstructures in a extremely automated means that enables OPT to compete on value with conventional swab makers. The corporate presently is ready to produce 80,000 swabs a day in its facility, and Ou says OPT is constructing newer variations of its machines that may produce merchandise much more rapidly.
OPT has secured partnerships with massive well being care organizations such because the distributor Henry Schein to get its swabs into hospitals, well being clinics, and at-home testing kits.
The startup can also be creating different medical sampling units that use its excessive bacterial assortment fee to check for different ailments. In Could, OPT will transfer into a brand new workplace in Medford, Massachusetts, that can deliver 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 making an attempt to be like [the multinational products company] 3M in additive manufacturing,” Ou says. “Everybody is aware of 3M as a result of they’ve quite a lot of totally different merchandise which might be important to every day life. That’s the mannequin we’re going after. We’ve different medical and beauty merchandise underneath improvement — the swab is only the start.”