SPEE3D, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, reports that it has successfully developed and tested a fast and affordable way to additively manufacture anti-microbial copper onto metal surfaces, and that laboratory tests have shown that touch surfaces modified by this process ‘contact kill’ 96% of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus (COVID-19), in just two hours.
The process, known as ACTIVAT3D copper, was developed by modifying the company’s Additive Manufacturing technology using new algorithms to allow existing metal parts to be coated with copper, rather than fabricating entirely new parts.
According to SPEE3D, 360Biolabs, an Australian NATA accredited clinical trial speciality laboratory, tested the effect of ACTIVAT3D copper on live SARS-CoV-2 in its Physical Containment 3 (PC3) laboratory. The results showed that 96% of the virus is killed in two hours and 99.2% 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. With laboratory testing complete, SPEE3D hopes that this process breakthrough can be applied to common touch items like door handles, rails and touch plates in hospitals, schools and other public places.
Byron Kennedy, SPEE3D CEO, explained that the company has focused on developing a solution that can be rapidly deployed and is more efficient than additively manufacturing solid copper parts from scratch. Kennedy stated,”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.”
SPEE3D developed the 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 . This is compared to traditional surfaces like stainless steel and plastic, with recent studies showing that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on these materials for up to three days . The company explained that stainless steel and plastic surfaces can be disinfected, but the problem with these surfaces is that, even with rigorous protocols, it is impossible to clean them constantly. When surfaces become contaminated between cleans, touching them may contribute to superspreading events. Touching contaminated objects, known as fomite transmission, was suspected during the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 epidemic and analysis of a nosocomial SARS57 CoV-1 superspreading event concluded that touching contaminated objects (fomites) played a significant role .
The SPEE3D team used its process to coat a stainless-steel door touch plate and other handles in just five minutes. The digital print files were then sent to participating partners, allowing the simultaneous installation of newly-coated parts in buildings in the USA, 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.
Larry (LJ) Holmes, Assistant Director of Digital Design and Additive Manufacturing at the University of Delaware, commented, “Scientists and engineers at the University of Delaware were honoured to be part of this global research collaboration. We recognised the importance of developing simple, yet highly impactful, solutions that have been proven effective on COVID-19. Recognising supply chain shortfalls over the last couple of months, it was clear to this team that fabrication speed was a priority. Using this technology, we are able to rapidly transition safe options for high-touch surfaces.”
SPEE3D reports that it has worked in close collaboration with the Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (AMA) at CDU and the initial testing of ACTIVAT3D copper and future studies have been funded and supported by the National Energy Resources Australia (NERA). Miranda Taylor, NERA CEO, said SPEE3D’s ability to successfully adapt their technology and pivot their business model demonstrated the resilience of Australian businesses and their potential to help the world combat COVID-19. Taylor stated, “NERA has supported SPEE3D to develop market-leading technologies to help our national energy sector, and we’re committed to assisting them to leverage their skills and expertise into this important new paradigm to help our country and many others curtail the devastating impact of this global pandemic.”
SPEE3D features in the Spring 2020 issue of Metal AM magazine: ‘Cheaper powders, faster build speeds and no thermal stresses? How AM is going supersonic at SPEE3D’. Read the article in full here.
 Warnes, S.L., Little, Z.R. and Keevil, C.W., 2015. Human coronavirus 229E remains infectious on common touch surface materials. MBio, 6(6), pp.e01697-15.
 Van Doremalen, N., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D., Holbrook, M., Gamble, A., Williamson, B., Tamin, A., Harcourt, J., Thornburg, N., Gerber, S. and Lloyd-Smith, J., 2020. Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1. medRxiv.