Engineers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are making metal molds that companies will use to manufacture plastic tubes for COVID-19 test kits.
The work has been cited in two federal coronavirus task force press conferences at the White House this week.
On Monday, Brad Smith, a federal health official, said the ORNL work could help supply more than 40 million collection tubes per month in the next several weeks. Smith grew up in Knoxville, and he has been a business leader and entrepreneur, and served in Tennessee state government. He is now deputy administrator and director of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The ORNL work was also cited by President Donald Trump on Sunday.
The ORNL engineers are using additive manufacturing to produce the metal molds for the COVID-19 test kits. Additive manufacturing is the process of making an object by printing it with a material layer by layer. Printers known as 3D printers— some large, some small—can be used.
On Monday, ORNL said its engineers are producing metal molds in days. It would take months to make those molds using traditional manufacturing methods, the lab said.
Companies that work with the lab will use the metal molds to produce many test tubes on their injection molding equipment, ORNL said. The companies are expected to be able to fill the molds with liquid plastic to produce 20-30 test tubes every 10 seconds.
The metal molds are being made with help from the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL. The MDF is in Hardin Valley.
The work is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Program and conducted in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The COVID-19 testing includes testing machines, collection supplies, and the materials needed for processing the tests. There are federal efforts to produce more of some of the other supplies needed in the testing, including tens of millions of swabs, according to the coronavirus task force.