First ‘made in Scotland’ 3D printed swabs to streamline COVID-19 tests

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3d printed swab

A new 3D printed COVID-19 testing swab which can collect sufficient viral material from the back of the nose - without need of a throat swab - is now being manufactured in Scotland.  

The nasopharynx 3D printed swabs provide a less intrusive experience compared to traditional cotton bud swabs, cutting testing time, reducing anxiety and minimising discomfort for patients.  

The Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC), based at Heriot-Watt University, and the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS) at Scottish Enterprise have worked with Scottish company Abergower 3D Ltd, to help manufacture the new design. Once used, the swabs can be processed at labs including Lighthouse in Glasgow.   

The unique helix designed tip of the swab and its tiny features guarantee that sufficient material is collected to provide a definitive result. The unique configuration of the tip of the swab allows capillary retention of the liquid as well as preventing the liquid from escaping the tip. The amount of viral load is further increased because the swab is non-absorbent unlike most cotton varieties.  

Abergower received the exclusive license to manufacture the swabs in Europe from US Company, EnvisionTec Inc. Over the last 10 months, Abergower has worked closely with the MDMC, Scottish Enterprise, The Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Services and other Scottish companies, including E&O Laboratories and Andersen Caledonia, to design and develop the swabs to UK and European specification and standards.  The swabs can also be used as a complete testing pack if required. 

Professor Marc Desmulliez from Heriot-Watt University is manager of the Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC). He commented: “It was important to establish robust manufacturing capabilities here in Scotland for this critical type of swab and the MDMC has worked closely with Abergower to achieve large volume manufacturing of up to 25,000 swabs a day over an accelerated time frame.  

“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”. 

Robin Prior, Managing Director of Abergower, commented: “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.   

“We have worked closely with our partners to achieve the successful manufacture of a 3D produced medical device that is ground-breaking in its design and testing capability. We have adapted the design conceived in the US and developed this product specifically for the UK and European market. We see this as a solid foundation for our future plans in the medical device marketplace. We are currently working with partners in Europe and further afield to offer this to a wider global audience.” 

Jerome Finlayson, lead practitioner at Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS), commented: “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.” 

In 2021, Heriot-Watt University celebrates the 200th anniversary of its founding in Scotland. From its beginnings as the world’s first mechanics institute in the heart of Edinburgh, two centuries of innovation have led to what is today a unique international institution with campuses in the UK, Dubai and Malaysia.

COVID-19 help and advice

The University is monitoring the coronavirus COVID-19 guidance and acting on the latest official health and travel advice relevant to each campus in the UK, Dubai and Malaysia.

If you have any of the following symptoms you should book a test online or call 0800 028 2816 if unable to access the online service:

  • a new continuous cough
  • fever/high temperature
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste.

If you are a student or member of staff and have any concerns about symptoms or interaction with others please contact SafeGuarding through the SafeZone app or on 0131 451 3500.

More information can be found on our dedicated help site.

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Annie Pugh