• Copper breaks down virus cell walls and destroys their genomes.
    Copper breaks down virus cell walls and destroys their genomes. SPEE3D

Australian company SPEE3D has successfully developed and tested a fast and affordable way to 3D print anti-microbial copper onto metal surfaces.

Laboratory tests have shown that touch surfaces modified by this process ‘contact kills’ 96 per cent of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in just two hours. Recent studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus may remain on surfaces or objects for up to 72 hours depending on the surface and conditions.

The process, known as ACTIVAT3D copper, has been developed by modifying SPEE3D’s 3D printing technology, using new algorithms for controlling their metal printers to allow existing metal parts to be coated with copper. Copper parts are difficult to produce using traditional methods and thus 3D printing may be the only tool available to rapidly deploy copper.

Australian NATA accredited clinical trial speciality laboratory, 360Biolabs, tested the effect of ACTIVAT3D copper on live SARS-CoV-2 in their Physical Containment 3 (PC3) laboratory. The results showed that 96 per cent of the virus is killed in two hours and 99.2 per cent of the virus killed in five hours, while stainless steel showed no reduction in the same time frame. Stainless steel is currently the material typically used in hygiene environments.

The SPEE3D team then developed a process to coat a stainless-steel door touch plate and other handles in five minutes. The digital print files were then sent to participating partners around the globe, allowing the simultaneous installation of newly-coated parts in buildings in the US, Asia and Australia. In a matter of days, copper fixtures were installed in buildings at Charles Darwin University (CDU) in Darwin, Swinburne University in Melbourne, the University of Delaware in the USA and in Japan.

SPEE3D CEO, Byron Kennedy said the company has focused on developing a solution that can be rapidly deployed and is more efficient than printing solid copper parts from scratch. “The lab results show ACTIVAT3D copper surfaces behave much better than traditional stainless, which may offer a promising solution to a global problem. The technology can be used globally addressing local requirements, be they in hospitals, schools, on ships or shopping centres,” he said.

SPEE3D developed the unique technique to harness copper’s proven abilities to eradicate bacteria, yeasts and viruses rapidly on contact by breaking down the cell wall and destroying the genome. By comparison, SARS-CoV-2 can survive on traditional surfaces like stainless steel and plastic for up to three days if they are not regularly disinfected.

“Recognizing supply chain shortfalls over the last couple of months, it was clear to this team that fabrication speed was a priority,” Assistant Director of Digital Design and Additive Manufacturing at the University of Delaware, Larry (LJ) Holmes, said. “Using this technology, we are able to rapidly transition safe options for high-touch surfaces.”

SPEE3D has worked in close collaboration with the Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (AMA) at CDU. The initial testing of ACTIVAT3D copper and future studies have been funded and supported by the National Energy Resources Australia (NERA).

SPEE3D has worked with the RAN and Army on 3D printing trials to significantly increase parts available compared to what the regular supply chain can provide. Defence has invested $1.5 million in the technology.

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