3D-printed origami technology to aid in the fight against COVID-19

Researchers at Simon Fraser University’s Additive Manufacturing Lab are replicating a distinctive art form – the subtle folding of origami – to create 3D printable technologies that help fight COVID-19 and help doctors identify and diagnose various health conditions.

Of particular note is the work led by Associate Professor Woo Soo Kim of the SFU School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, an inexpensive, portable 3D-printed ventilator powered by a patented, intelligent 3D-printed origami tube. A detailed review of the design and evolution of the innovation, recently assessed by a local team of respiratory therapists, was published in the journal Flexible and printed electronics.

The portable mechanical ventilator is designed to aid a person’s breathing by reliably contracting a 3D printed origami tube rather than compressing a traditional pocket valve mask (BVM), reducing the overall size of the assisted ventilator with mechanical gain. The 3D printed design and lightweight materials also reduce production costs.

In our origami portable ventilator, more than 95 percent of the components can be 3D printable, so it’s really inexpensive. Other portable ventilators can cost over $ 2,000, but our 3D printed ventilator can be made for around $ 200. “

Woo Soo Kim, Associate Professor, SFU School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering

Kim says the small and light design combined with the low cost of production make her portable ventilator for treating COVID-19 patients or those who need a compact and portable device outside of hospitals, such as rural areas and developing countries.

The team partnered with Vancouver-based ventilation manufacturer Pantheon Design and Delta-based 3D printing company Tinkerine, with support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Alliance program. In addition, the team is looking for further investment and development partners with the aim of mass production.

Development of 3D origami-based dry electrodes for sensor robots to support medical professionals

Kim also designs and patents 3-D origami dry electrodes that can be used to monitor patient health. This technology is subject to the same intellectual property strategy as 3D printed origami technologies. The dry electrodes can detect and monitor physiological signals such as heartbeat, breathing, temperature and muscle movements by simply touching the 3D origami dry electrodes.

Kim envisions that in the future, this technology could help doctors and nurses by allowing them to remotely assess patient health through a robotic helper.

The humanoid robot would also be able to monitor oxygen levels – useful in cases where a patient has developed severe COVID-19. The data can be displayed in real time on the robot’s monitor or sent directly to the healthcare provider.

“The dry electrode does not need to be equipped with the measuring robot – it can be used in a hospital setting to replace the wet gel electrode for electrophysiology such as electrocardiogram or blood pressure measurement applications,” says Kim. “Dry electrodes are just one of the technologies from this portfolio of 3D origami technologies that we are developing here at SFU.”


Journal reference:

Kim, TH., et al. (2021) Air sensor tubes with 3D architecture for a portable mechanical ventilator. Flexible and printed electronics.