Darwin 3D printing company sparks global interest

With low COVID-19 case numbers in the Top End, most ICN NT consultants have been able to continue to work from the office to support local and regional businesses as well as major project owners.

Territory businesses, however, are not immune from the effects of nation-wide restrictions, with both tourism and hospitality bearing the brunt and onshore oil and gas exploration on hold.

A Darwin 3D printing company, however, is producing an antimicrobial copper sheath that may help the world get back to “normal”, and that has captured the attention of international media, including the New York Times.

Spee3d has developed and tested a fast and affordable way to 3D print anti-microbial copper sheaths for metal surfaces. Laboratory tests have shown that touch surfaces modified by this process ‘contact kills’ 96% of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in just two hours.

The Northern Territory Department of Trade, Business and Innovation has become the first organisation to deploy the antimicrobial ACTIVAT3D copper throughout its building.

Department of Trade, Business and Innovation CEO, Shaun Drabsch said the department was “thrilled to be the first to have this innovative technology installed in our workplace, ensuring an even safer place for our staff and community to do business here.”

“It is great to see a local Territory company taking advantage of this very challenging time and drive a new innovative product that can further protect Territorians from COVID-19.”

Spee3d Chief Technical Officer Steven Camilleri said it has long been known that copper had antimicrobial properties, with ancient civilisations – and some parts of the world today - using copper to store clean drinking water.

It’s affordability and availability, however, has meant stainless steel is more commonly used in public places these days. But with research showing that SARS-CoV-2 can live several days on stainless steel, copper is becoming a more attractive option.

The company has worked with copper in the past and when the pandemic hit, they rapidly pivoted their business from design and manufacture of metal 3D printing equipment and software to developing antimicrobial copper sheaths.

The technology allows them to print a sheath to fit any type of door handle, tap and other fixtures or fittings in less than five minutes.

“We developed a new technique that can print metal parts quickly,” Steven said, adding that Spee3d had found the “Goldilocks” speed – not too fast and not too slow.

The company linked up with Melbourne-based clinical trial speciality laboratory, 360Biolabs, to test the effect of ACTIVAT3D copper on live SARS-CoV-2. Results showed that 96% of the virus was killed in two hours and 99.2% in 5 hours. Stainless steel showed no reduction in the same time frame.

The results have led to global interest in the technology, and Spee3d is handling enquiries from Governments and private companies looking for proactive ways to protect their communities. It is hoped that this locally developed breakthrough technology can be applied to high-touch items such as door handles, rails and touch plates in hospitals, schools and other public places.

The company is specifically looking to partner the door handle manufacturing industry to deliver ACTIVAT3D copper at scale to where it is needed most.

While the ICN consultants can work from the office, restrictions have affected the ability to run face to face workshops, so ICN NT has moved Profile Improvement Workshops online, with excellent success.

“We held an online profile improvement workshop in May, with more than 42 attendees from various regions.

Elsewhere in the Territory, there are still opportunities to be found, particularly in the construction industry, where projects are going ahead with COVID-safe procedures in place.

“We had anticipated a pickup in activity later this year before the virus hitting the economy, largely on the back of Defence projects. It seems these projects will go ahead regardless,” ICN NT Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Peters said.

“Recently we’ve seen both Lendlease and Laing O’Rourke post RFT lists on their respective Gateway Defence project pages.

“These companies are being very generous in doing so as they are enabling local businesses to undertake business development activities with the knowledge of exactly who will be bidding for work.”

Kevin encouraged Territory businesses to ensure they are well acquainted with ICN processes to give them the best chance of success.