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ROE Dental Laboratory in Independence answers the call to produce much-needed test swabs

Posted at 7:50 AM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 18:39:10-04

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — ROE Dental Laboratory in Independence is setting up a team of new 3D printers to complement it’s existing printers and help create the much-needed coronavirus testing swaps that will enable more testing to happen across the nation. While leaders try to figure out when they’ll ease social distancing restrictions, testing for coronavirus has become more important.

In a building where 3D printers and paint brushes normally restore smiles, the skeleton staff at ROE is slowly growing as more orders for a different product come in.

The demand for ROE’s usual products, material to help reconstruct faces or replace broken dentures, fell off quickly as Americans started to social distance to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“400 orders a day [went] to 20 in two days,” said ROE Dental Laboratory President BJ Kowalski.

At first, ROE made a pivot other companies with 3D printers also made, creating plastic bands to hold face-shields.

“Once we started doing those, we saw a demand but we can only do so many of those a day,” Kowalski said.

Those shields are helping medical professionals across the country. Their latest contribution might be physically smaller, but it’s just as important.

“Health systems worldwide have struggled because of the critical shortage of test kit components,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “This includes the swabs that are used to collect samples and the sterile solution needed to transport the swabs.”

ROE is uniquely situated to start making those swabs.

“We’re a little bit more advanced as a dental laboratory and we’re registered with the [Food and Drug Administration] as a medial device manufacturer,” said Kowalski.

That registration with the FDA is important because the swabs will go inside patients’ noses. Since ROE already prints materials that help reconstruct people’s faces, they’re able to print the swabs and have printers advanced enough to make the intricate tips of the swabs needed to be effective.

To meet demand, ROE is bringing more printers online this week to print even more.

“We feel there is going to be a large interest,” said Kowalski. “We have some large pending orders from some entire states. We backed up and doubled down on our equipment.”

When ROE is at full speed, Kowalski said they’re hoping to make at least 100,000 swabs per week—trying to meet the demand from elected leaders and medical facilities looking for anywhere between 400,000 to 2 million swabs.

It’s a lot of work, but a welcome-challenge for a company that’s furloughed most of its employees. The good news is the company has already been able to bring some of those employees back next week because of the orders that are trickling in.