EYE ON INNOVATION: Vertebrae Implants More Proof of 3D Printing’s Place in Med Tech

3D printing and other rapid manufacturing methods continue to transform the med tech industry, as illustrated recently by an Australian neurosurgeon who, in late 2015, removed cancerous vertebrae in a patient and implanted, in their place, printed vertebrae.

The 3D-printed part that would replace the patient’s cancer-ridden vertebrae. Photo: Dailymail.co.uk and ABC News.

Dr. Ralph Mobbs, a neurosurgeon at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, called the procedure a “world first.” The surgery was performed on a patient with chordoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in the bone of the skull and spine. As Wired UK reports, the 60-year-old patient was affected in the two vertebrae responsible for turning the head — meaning that, if the 15-hour surgery had failed, he would have been left paralyzed.

Because of the position and function of these vertebrae, however, they’re extremely hard to replace — they must be an exact fit. Mobbs decided to 3D print the replacements instead, and worked with Anatomics, an Australian medical device manufacturer, to design and build the implants, which were made from titanium. The company also printed exact anatomical models of the patient’s head for Mobbs to practice on before the surgery. Continue reading

3D Printing Methods for Medtech Prototypes

Being able to quickly produce prototype parts is critical to creating an environment of innovation that can lead to medical device market success. By removing inefficiencies, manufacturers should expect to have prototype parts in a few days, not months. The prototype method must be fast enough to allow multiple iterations in a condensed time frame, and possess the scale to allow for multiple iterations at the same time.

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Rapid manufacturing methods like 3D printing are leveraged to help drastically reduce development time for medical devices.

Additive manufacturing (AM), also called 3D printing, enables quick evaluation of new medical product designs without making compromises due to complex part geometries. Using AM offers easier design changes and at a low cost. When prototyping via 3D printing, designers should not expect a finished part, although it should be noted 3D printing processes can yield finalized products. Stereolithography, for example, has a number of post-secondary finishing processes and direct metal laser sintering produces fully dense end-use metal parts.

There may be limits to color and texture choices, and in certain instances, thermoplastic-like materials will differ from the final production material used in process like molding and machining. If the surface finish, texture, color and coefficient of friction vary from the end material, it is difficult to accurately assess the subtle needs and benefits of these properties.

The main advantage of 3D printing is that it provides accurate form and fit testing. The build process of additive technology can accurately produce the form and size of the desired part, making it very useful for early evaluation of new medical parts. It is best used to identify design flaws, make changes, and then make second-generation machined parts or invest in tooling to create injection-molded parts. This article reviews that various AM printing methods commonly used in prototyping.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Regrowing Damaged Nerves Using 3D Printing Technology

A national team of researchers has developed a 3D-printed guide or pathway that helps regrow complex injured or damaged nerves, and successfully tested the guide in rats.

Researchers say that this groundbreaking research holds the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease. The researchers are from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. The team’s study was published this month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Image courtesy of Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide or pathway implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. Continue reading

Proto Labs Expands Its Additive Manufacturing Footprint

Proto Labs has acquired a new facility to expand its 3D printing service into a larger and more efficient additive manufacturing space. The 77,000 sq. ft. facility will allow us to house all of our stereolithography (SL), selective laser sintering (SLS) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology under one roof. The new plant is scheduled to become fully operational in the first half of 2016, and will remain in the North Carolina area where Proto Labs’ current additive facilities are located.

Large format SLS machines that will eventually move to Proto Labs’ new additive manufacturing facility.

“Since the launch of 3D printing at Proto Labs, we’ve increased our material selection and improved our turnaround time to days. We have also introduced additive services in Europe,” explains Rob Connelly, Proto Labs’ VP of Additive Manufacturing. “Our state-of-the-art facility will be a critical driver in advancing 3D printing for many years to come.”

Read the full press release on our new additive manufacturing space here.

Q & A with Proto Labs’ Rob Bodor in Electronic Design

Rob Bodor, Proto Labs’ VP and GM, Americas

*Excerpt courtesy of Bill Wong and Electronic Design

Turning an idea into a product is more than just hacking some hardware and software together. It’s easier to develop a prototype with 3D printers, but many other techniques and methodologies are more appropriate for some applications. Likewise, turning from a prototype to production can be a challenge.

Along those lines, Proto Labs offers a range of production and design services, and maintains extensive production facilities to deliver any number of parts for a given design. I spoke with Rob Bodor about some of Proto Labs’ services and what they bring to the table.

Wong: How did Proto Labs get started, and what kind of services does it offer today?

Bodor: Proto Labs was founded as the ProtoMold Company by Larry Lukis in 1999, a self-professed computer geek and entrepreneur. Previously, Larry was the founder of a successful company that sought to design a better printer. He was frustrated by the time, cost, and manual labor involved in getting injection-molded parts, so he decided to develop software that automated the injection molding processes he needed to create his prototypes.

Read the complete article at Electronic Design.