This article talks about how a Carbon Engineer developed and converted his concept into a vital COVID-19 NP Swab using Carbon’s Lattice Engine software tool to develop one of the most essential items to fight against the Pandemic.
This story of the journey of a product from conception to launch showcases the true potential of the revolutionary 3D Printing technology.
Sometime in Mid-March, Hardik Kabaria, a software engineer at Carbon, one of the world’s leading Digital Manufacturing Platform, became aware of the acute shortage of nasal swabs needed in COVID-19 tests. He decided to resolve this problem by leveraging every skill and asset he had at his disposal. This was the germination of an idea and he, despite not having any background in developing medical devices, decided to test his software skills to generate an optimized design for a new swab that could be digitally manufactured on demand.
A BIT ABOUT HARDIK
Hardik is credited with being one of the masterminds behind the development of Carbon’s revolutionary Lattice Engine computational design software. He led a team to create a powerful design tool that offers previously unachievable product capabilities, as well as the ability to input design constraints and performance requirements to algorithmically generate designs that match required specifications.
Carbon has successfully leveraged this Lattice Engine software tool combined with Carbon Digital Light Synthesis™ technology to build revolutionary products like the Futurecraft 4D and others for Adidas footwear, top-performing football helmets by Riddell and bike saddles by Specialized. All these products have been acknowledged and well received by the customers with significant benefits over traditional products to offer better performance while also reducing the risk of injuries.
COVID-19 AND THE FIRST NP SWAB PROTOTYPE
By Mid-march, the COVID-19 was spreading exponentially in the US and the need for products for fighting the pandemic was only rising. Sensing this, the Carbon team began learning about nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs, and how manufacturing supply chain disruptions were causing severe shortages across the world that would undermine the country’s ability to conduct sufficient diagnostic testing to help understand and slow the pandemic’s spread.
While the team examined the design of a traditional NP swab, Hardik estimated that he can turnaround the first alternative lattice-based NP swab design in 24 hours. Surprisingly, it turned out to be much faster. Hardik, along with his colleague Owen Lu, a senior applications engineer at Carbon, developed the design in just a couple of hours. Thus, the world’s first NP swab featuring a lattice design was born.
But the job was not done. The design had to be optimised and so Hardik, led the process to rapidly optimize the swab design using the Lattice Engine software with Owen, refining the shape and precisely tuning the thickness and length of struts in different ways throughout the lattice structure of the swab head to deliver increasingly better mechanical and clinical performance. Iterations took mere hours and were informed by real-time feedback from clinicians assessing the swabs for patient comfort, biospecimen collection efficacy, and compatibility with PCR test systems for COVID-19.  
RESOLUTION MEDICAL LAUNCHES NP SWABS
Carbon then collaborated with Resolution Medical on the lattice-based design approach to create close to 20 design iterations. The design went from the first design to the final launch product in mere 20 days.
Design adjustments focused on flexibility of the swab head to achieve the mechanical performance and functionality needed for effective COVID-19 diagnostic testing. Earlier iterations with a straight stem with the lattice cage surrounding it were improved using tapering, overall shape adjustments, strut thickness adjustments, as well as the addition of a helical stem.
After completing all mechanical and functionality tests, the new NP swab was launched on the market by Resolution Medical, an FDA-registered, in vitro diagnostic and medical device manufacturer, in only 20 days—which is unheard of for a medical device product. The Resolution Medical Lattice Swab, Crafted with Carbon™ Technology, exhibits a highly flexible, conformal lattice with a hollow cage structure, providing abundant space for mucosal collection to aid specimen collection efficacy. Hundreds of thousands of Lattice Swabs are already being used by hospitals and institutions across the country for COVID-19 testing, and a new pre-sterilized product will be available in the coming weeks.
Speaking on the complete development process, Hardik noted, “Though the Lattice Engine software wasn’t developed specifically with swabs in mind, solving this problem was a perfect match for its capabilities. “We are still only at the beginning of this journey of using lattice designs for products. There’s such a vast range of possibilities for lattice-based products, and I hope this example can help inspire product designers and engineers in many industries.”
The Resolution Medical Lattice Swab has helped address an immediate problem in the healthcare industry—a lack of access to critical supplies for more widespread COVID-19 testing. Its speed-to-market, using the Lattice Engine software, demonstrates the power of computational design joined with 3D printing, a vision driving Hardik’s work since he came to Carbon in 2015.
Hardik recalls, “In that moment we worked as quickly as we could to use our lattice design capabilities to create a swab that could at least meet the performance of a conventional NP swab.”
Hardik believes that by the end of the entire process, the team ended up achieving more than what they had hoped for. There is early evidence suggesting that the swabs could help reduce false negative readings as well, which are fairly common for conventional NP swabs. This is especially important for understanding infection rates and preventing community spread of COVID-19.
Hardik mentioned, “The accelerated design and launch of the Lattice Swab demonstrates what can be achieved, but this is really only the beginning of what’s possible with lattices.”
Innovation in designing and manufacturing products to address urgent needs lies at the intersection of computational design software and current industrial 3D printing capabilities. With the Lattice Engine software developed by Hardik and team, lattice-based design continues to enable breakthrough products when paired with digital manufacturing, providing both powerful design and speed-to-market advantages.
(Story originally published on Carbon: The Lattice Engine That Could: How a New COVID-19 Testing Swab Went from Concept to Launch in 20 Days)
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