They can be used to perform Covid-19 tests by swabbing only the nose, rather than both the nose and throat, leading to a quicker and less uncomfortable experience.
This is because the unique helix-designed tip of the swab guarantees that sufficient material is collected to provide a definitive result and does not allow liquid to escape. The swab is also non-absorbent, unlike cotton varieties, which means that more substance can be tested.
The swabs were created in partnership by 3D printing company Abergower, the Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC), based at Heriot-Watt University, and the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS) at Scottish Enterprise.
Up to 25,000 can be printed in a day, which Professor Marc Desmulliez, manager of the MDMC, said would reduce reliance on imported testing equipment.
“It was important to establish robust manufacturing capabilities here in Scotland for this critical type of swab,” he said.
"The MDMC has worked closely with Abergower to achieve large volume manufacturing of up to 25,000 swabs a day over an accelerated timeframe.
“It’s easy to forget how critical the situation was last year and the challenges the country faced in getting the right type and quantity of medical devices for testing and personal protection equipment (PPE). The MDMC was funded to help companies like Abergower to accelerate medical devices to market.
"The success of this type of collaboration will benefit patients across the UK as testing continues, but also ensures that both Scotland and the UK are more resilient, reducing our reliance on expensive inbound PPE and medical device imports.
"We are now seeing the creation of a supply chain within Scotland that can provide all the necessary items to deliver Covid-19 testing. This is a great example of a collaboration between industry, academia and the regional development agency, Scottish Enterprise”.
The MDMC is a consortium based at Heriot-Watt, which also includes Edinburgh, Glasgow and Robert Gordon universities.
Robin Prior, managing director of Abergower, said of the technology: “The advantages of using 3D printing technology to rapidly design, develop and launch a highly effective product to meet the challenge of the worldwide pandemic has been demonstrated through this collaboration.
"As the UK’s first approved manufacturer of this product, we see strong future potential in this emerging technology. It is rewarding to bring hi-tech manufacturing capability to Scotland and to build a sustainable and valued contribution to the Scottish economy going forward.”
Jerome Finlayson, lead practitioner at the SMAS, said: “Working with Abergower, we have been able to build supply chain resilience into a key area around Covid-19 testing scale up.
"We have also seen innovative high value manufacturing techniques being deployed through the use of high-volume 3D printing techniques, which is normally the domain of smaller volume, highly complex products.
"The SMAS team has helped Abergower to design a manufacturing facility that will effectively support significant volume growth through a phased approach.”