At the beginning of April, the doctor RNDr. Lenka Richterová, PhD. (Na Bulovce Hospital) contacted a group of CTU researchers who automate Covid-19 testing using pipetting robots. Researchers and students of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering (FEE) and the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics (CIIRC) were asked whether they could design a tool to facilitate the opening of test tubes. The current procedure of manual opening is very impractical and ultimately dangerous. It requires inserting a finger into the recess of the lid, turning it and then unfolding it. According to Richterová, this method followed by the lab technicians causes calluses and painful blisters that burst. In addition, tilting the cap to the side causes bubbles to contaminate the outside of the tube and laboratory gloves. And using more layers of gloves would make it impossible to hold the tube and cap firmly.
After a short discussion with the doctor, Bc. Jiří Kubík, a student of the master's program Open Informatics and our robotics researcher (AI Center), got excited about this challenge. While listening about the problematic manual opening of the test tubes, he immediately recalled the PET bottle opener that his grandmother used. This tool that many of us have at home even today makes it easier to turn the lid without any significant force. Kubík used the same principle when designing the test tube opener. In contrast to the classic PET bottle opener, it also has protective wings that prevent contact between the glove and the contaminated interior of the lid, and a sliding pin for easier handling of the lid when unscrewing it. The author also consulted the final form of the design with his lab colleague Bc. Jakub Sláma and Mgr. Adéla Přibylová from the Faculty of Science, Charles University, with whom he collaborates on automation of testing for the Motol University Hospital.
The tool is completely manufactured on a 3D printer, which enables fast and local production, low costs and immediate use in laboratories. Kubík is able to produce 20-30 openers per day on his own 3D printer and a printer borrowed from CIIRC CTU. The produced openers are already used by seven laboratories, to which they were delivered on request via a network of ambulances transporting samples throughout the country. However, the opener can be printed by anyone who owns a 3D printer. Kubík has placed the design on an open-source platform Thingiverse, from where anyone can download it for free. Other laboratories throughout the Czech Republic were informed about this possibility through the State Medical Institute of the Czech Republic.
Design of the opener for 3D printing is available for free download here: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4272124