Alex Marsh, 14, is using his 3D printer to create valves that are to be used in new ventilator masks to help deal with the growing shortage of ventilators as the COVID-19 crisis continues. (Submitted photo)

Cowichan Valley team using 3D printing to quadruple ventilator capacity

Hopes are high that project will help solve global ventilator shortage during pandemic

A team from different backgrounds and disciplines have assembled in the Cowichan Valley to do their part to help fight the COVID-19 crisis around the world, with the help of some futuristic technology.

In just a few days this month, the “Project Draw Breath” team was formed and, using their expertise and 3D printers, developed working ventilator masks that could help with the global shortage of ventilators to deal with severe respiratory illnesses related to COVID-19.


Ventilators pump oxygen into the infected lungs of COVID-19 patients who have trouble breathing.

The bedside machines have been instrumental in saving the lives of people in critical condition, but there is a growing shortage of ventilators in hospitals around the world as the COVID-19 crisis spreads.

The team is now working with Island Health at Cowichan District Hospital to develop and clinically test a rapidly deployable device that utilizes 3D-printed valves and readily available silicone masks that can be attached to conventional medical equipment specifically for patients needing respiratory treatment for COVID-19.

This piece of equipment will make it possible for four patients to share one ventilator, effectively quadrupling the number of patients that can be treated.

Clinical testing of the masks at the CDH was set to begin on March 28.

The next phase of the project would see the development of a low cost, open-source ventilator that could save countless lives during the ongoing pandemic.


After watching a video of Dr. David Forrest at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital describe the COVID-19 situation and how few ventilators they have in Nanaimo, the Cowichan Valley’s Dr. Richard Walton (Bsc, MSc, Peng, PhD) rose to the challenge.

He was quickly joined by the product design team at the Valley’s Live Edge Design, which usually specializes in building custom-made wood furniture, and 14-year-old Alex Marsh who had, as of March 27, made three of the required valves for the masks on his 3D printer.

“It’s hoped we never have to use the equipment Dr. Walton is assembling, but based on demand in other countries, hospitals may run out of ventilators,” the team said in a press release.

“The medical devices that Dr. Walton is replicating will save lives.”

Walton, a retired scientist who has been running Duncan’s RIBA Detailing Perfection, a world class automotive detailing service, since 2017, has a suppressed immune system and underlying respiratory issues.

He said the life the team saves with the new device might be his own.

“I want to ensure that no one who needs respiratory therapy goes without it,” Walton said.

Just three days after developing the masks, the team received word from Science and Innovation Canada that they are interested in Walton and the team proceeding with their project and, after clinical trials, want a report on the masks’ functionality.

The team has also forwarded the project details to Health Canada.


Alex Marsh, a student at Quamichan Secondary School, isn’t sitting idle while school has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

He said he got involved in the project due to connections his mother, Amber, had with the team.

Alex said he had bought a 3D printer to help with his hobbies, and was more than happy to help create the valves when asked.

“It’s pretty cool because most people don’t get the chance to be involved in a project like this that can help so many people,” Alex said.

“I just finished a set of valves this morning. It takes awhile though; more than eight hours just to create one on the 3D printer.”


At this stage, the initiative is being funded solely by Walton and donors, so the team has set up an email for donations at to help the bills, including the costs of lab equipment, at this stage of development

The team said there are also other ways to help.

“If you have a 3D printer and would like to join the team, we are collecting details should we need to drastically increase production,” the team said.

“This is not a profit making venture. After clinical trials, Dr. Walton will consult with the powers that be to assess projected demand on Vancouver Island, in B.C. and across Canada. On a final note, should any local manufacturers of medical supplies such as scrub caps and masks like to take advantage of sterilization and packaging of their products, Dr. Walton and Project Draw Breath are happy to help as a cost-free community service.

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