alumnus Erik de Bruijn

Alumnus helps the healthcare sector with new technology

3D printers to the rescue during the corona crisis

Story 4 min. Joost Bijlsma

During the corona crisis, various entrepreneurs spontaneously supported the healthcare sector. Such as alumnus Erik de Bruijn, co-founder of Ultimaker, a company that makes 3D printers. These devices can assist in the production of medical resources that are in short supply, such as face shield and parts for ventilators.

Erik de Bruijn has turned his house into a miniature factory. He produced a hundred face shields, intended for hospitals. He printed the frames on his own 3D printers. He then mobilized neighbors to make holes in transparent plastic sheets and attach them to the frames. The shields will soon be sent to a distributor without an invoice. The distributor will make sure that it gets to the care providers that need it the most. Doctors and nurses wear such shields when inserting tubes for breathing, says De Bruijn. “There are shortages. 3D printers can help solve these.” The design of the face shield is available open source and can be printed out cheaply. “Worldwide, 100,000 copies have been printed already.”

Ultimaker - alumnus Erik de Bruijn

3D printers can help solve shortages

Erik de Bruijn

Thousands of downloads

Using technology for a better world, is what drives De Bruijn. The 3D printer can make an important contribution to a better life, he thinks. This is demonstrated, for example, by the e-NABLE initiative, supported by him. This global community develops cheap prosthetics. They work with open source files and 3D printers. De Bruijn sees the corona crisis as an opportunity to demonstrate the social added value of 3D printing. Therefore, after the virus outbreaks in Europe, he decided to focus entirely on supporting the healthcare sector with 3D printers. Most of his time, by the way, is not spent on printing face shields himself. He is mainly involved in bringing supply and demand together.

Using technology for a better world


On the site, he keeps an overview of “COVID-19 designs.” Here you can find the designs of the face shields for you to print, but also designs of face masks and hygienic door handle openers. These designs are very popular. They are downloaded thousands of times a day, says De Bruijn. “I am constantly scaling up the website in order to be able to handle larger numbers of visitors. 99 percent of the visitors are now looking for COVID-19 designs.”

Make your own valves

If hospitals own 3D printers, they can work with the open source designs themselves. Even if they do not have this new technology, there are possibilities. For Ultimaker 3D printers, it has been set out clearly on a map which 3D printers are available for this purpose. Hospitals can find printer hubs there that are willing to help them.


The hospital in Tilburg prints 100 valves a day

3D printing support

The Elisabeth Tweesteden Hospital in Tilburg is already using its own 3D printers. They had ordered valves for oxygen masks (which you are only allowed to use once). However, these were delayed whilst supplies were running out. That is why the Tilburg hospital decided to make them themselves. They now print 100 valves a day, so that they can meet the daily needs of 60 to 80 valves. Because of the high demand for valves, the hospital makes the files available so that others can use them as well.

Obstacle: validation

The great advantage of 3D printing is that designs can be distributed quickly and made anywhere. So, this could provide a quick solution in the event of shortages. But, everything hangs on the quality of the designs. Meeting the high quality standards of healthcare is not easy. According to De Bruijn, the materials with which the printers work are not the problem: “We can print with plastic materials that can be sterilized or antibacterial. A bigger obstacle is getting designs validated. The printed devices or components must be approved for use. After all, they are used in high-risk conditions. According to De Bruijn, making face masks, for example, requires precision. “If you decide to do that, you take on a big responsibility. The filter material must be good and the seal must be exactly right. So it's not the first application I am thinking of. Certainly not if you want to make those shields for caregivers.”

Mobilize global thinking and respond quickly to acute needs



However, under pressure from demand, the number of validated designs is now increasing rapidly. De Bruijn points to the university hospital Parc Taulí in Sabadell, Spain. “By means of a catalog, they share design parameters and material requirements for hygiene aids (such as door handle openers) and parts of the breathing system. They also explain on video how to make the parts.” According to De Bruijn, there are Italian companies that approve 3D printed parts, including for breathing equipment. And the face shields, which are mass-produced, can be used by healthcare providers in more and more countries. “In the UK, suppliers to healthcare now ask for 3D printed face shields themselves. They collect and disinfect them and then distribute them to healthcare providers.” De Bruijn would like healthcare providers to provide feedback on the designs, for example, about the wearability.

If I wasn't convinced of this great social added value, I wouldn't be spending 99 percent of my time on this

Saving Lives

De Bruijn thinks that the corona crisis could lead to a breakthrough of the 3D printer in healthcare. Nowadays, these devices are already being used, for example, prostheses. But also prints, on a 1:1 scale, of medical scans for pre-operative planning and drilling aids for increasing accuracy during bone surgery. However, during this crisis, 3D printers can also prove to be very useful as a backup in case of shortages. “3D printers make healthcare less dependent on distant suppliers. They offer the opportunity to mobilize global thinking and respond quickly to acute needs. The trick now is to channel that and save lives. If I wasn't convinced of this great social added value, I wouldn't be spending 99 percent of my time on this.”

Erik de Bruijn

Alumnus Erik de Bruijn studied Information Management at Tilburg University. He started Ultimaker in 2010 together with Siert Wijnia and Martijn Elserman. The university supported him in this through the Starterslift project. In 2016, he received the Chapeau-award (currently the Best Entrepreneurial Student Initiative, BESI Award) from Tilburg University. This is in recognition of the impact he and his company have on society.
De Bruijn is still a shareholder of Ultimaker, but no longer works in day-to-day operations. He has started a new start-up: This is an application that ensures that electric cars are charged in a smart way.

Date of publication: 20 April 2020