By Danielle Kutchel
Imagine a material that can kill SARS CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, on contact.
Now imagine that material coating high-contact surfaces in buildings and businesses around the state or even the country.
It might not be a figment of the imagination for much longer, thanks to a Dandenong-based manufacturer’s latest innovation.
When the pandemic hit, Spee3D was among those that pivoted its operations to better serve the community during the wave of Covid-19.
The company specialises in producing fast, low-cost 3D metal printers and in printing parts for companies and organisations, but their latest project has the potential to change the way the community approaches infectious diseases through utilising the special properties of copper.
The anti-microbial properties of copper have been known for centuries; there is evidence that it was used in ancient civilisations for hygiene purposes.
The question, Spee3D chief executive officer Byron Kennedy said, was whether it could be engineered for touch surfaces.
Staff got to work developing new code for their 3D printers to allow them to print copper plating onto hard surfaces like door touch plates and handles.
Known as ‘activat3D copper’, the coating has been independently tested and shown to be effective at killing 96% of the SARS Cov-2 virus in two hours and 99.2% in five hours.
And, it’s equally effective against other viruses, including the flu and superbug MRSA.
“It kills bacteria and viruses on touch,” Mr Kennedy said.
“It’s a long-term solution; the anti-microbial properties stay forever as long as you don’t paint over it or something.”
Plus, the process takes just minutes to complete.
The challenge is that copper is expensive.
Spee3D’s process applies a thin layer of copper, about half a millimetre, to the surface.
This makes it more economical for widespread use, but doesn’t detract from the virus-killing power of the material.
Interest in the copper-plated metal surfaces has been strong so far, Mr Kennedy said, especially because the product can be used in so many industries. Already, the Northern Territory government has had one of its buildings refitted using Spee3D’s products.
“The applications are limitless at the moment: hospitals, schools, ships, public places, government buildings, workplaces, airplanes,” Mr Kennedy suggested.
“We’re one of only two groups worldwide that has proven copper kills the virus and thus the level of interest we’re seeing.”
The goal now is for Spee3D to work with large manufacturers, providing them with the printers to produce copper coatings for high-touch surfaces.
As other industries begin to recover from the economic shock, Spee3D hopes to hear from more businesses keen to make the investment in copper plated surfaces.
“It’s certainly an exciting new area,” Mr Kennedy said.
“There is no reason why it shouldn’t be rolled out. It’s cost-effective, fast and it makes sense.”