3D Printing our way to better healthcare

In the late 1990s, a young patient required a bladder replacement, something for which a transplant wasn’t possible.  The doctors treating that patient came up with an alternative solution: make one.  They called on the expertise of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine to build a scaffolding in the shape of the required organ, and on that framework, they grew a bladder using the patient’s cells.  This was one of the first uses of 3D printing in the healthcare sector. Since then, 3D printing has become a significant tool in healthcare.

At the start of the 21st Century, the hearing aid industry worldwide used injection moulding and traditional handcrafts to form inner ear implants.  In that first decade, though, 3D printing began to be used, making the case into which the delicate electronics was sat such that each fitting was shaped to the ear canal of each individual patient, something that would have been prohibitively expensive, with long lead times to deliver if done using traditional techniques.  In the USA, the entire hearing aid industry shifted to 3D printed implants within 12 months, and today over 90% of the industry uses 3D printing.

That same shift is now happening in dentistry, where crowns and implants are scanned or moulds taken by a dentist, who send the required shapes to a 3D printing laboratory that then makes the necessary items to the exact specification for that patient, all in a fraction of the time that it traditionally takes.

So what is 3D printing?  Have we invented Star Trek-like replicators that can make anything in any shape, in any material?

Image result for 3d printing medicalAll 3D printing, or additive manufacture as it is traditionally known, involves making things by building them layer upon layer.  The techniques may involve laying plastic or powders on a base in the desired shape then heating or treating them to form a layer, then repeatedly doing so, building an item from the bottom up.  More recent technologies use lasers to melt metal powers and electrostatics to solidify liquid resins.

It surprises many to find that the technology is over 30 years old, and it was used primarily in designing and prototyping for much of the first 20 years, particularly in the automotive and architectural sectors.  The last 10 year has seen a significant change, though.

Today, 3D printing is a widely used, fast growing technique that is already transforming medicine.  Everyday sees news stories about an amazing application of the technology.  These range from helping surgeons to plan complicated procedures by using a 3D printed exact model of a patient’s internal organs or bones, to producing implants for joints or replace shattered bones.  Why the sudden interest and acceleration?  That comes from advances in the technology, allowing for faster manufacture and new materials to be made with higher strengths and tolerances.  It comes from the flexibility of 3D printed parts to have complex structures, and for the economic viability of producing single items with a unique shape just as cheaply as making thousands of a standard form.

Image result for 3d printing pharmaIn one example of how it is changing medicine, Joel Gibbard, CEO of Open Bionics, was recently quoted in the engineering magazine E&T describing how “the capability to produce bionic prosthetic arms for children as young as eight years old is only possible through the use of 3D printing”.  The technology reduces the time to make a prosthetic ready to wear from measurement from 3 months – when considering visiting a specialist consultant for fitting, the time taken to order and receive parts and the manufacturing process – to one day.  Moreover, the finished arm can be made lighter as the density of components can be reduced by using complex lattices rather than solid structures, something that isn’t possible with injection moulding or traditional manufacture.  This has also reduced the cost of making more sophisticated prosthetics by up to a factor of ten.

3D printing is now entering into new areas and the developments are exciting.  In the pharmaceutical space, companies are using 3D printers to make tablets with the precise dosage a patient needs, rather than treating everyone with a one-size-fits-all approach.  Some are using 3D printers to make tablets in shapes that make them more acceptable to children, easing the burden of getting them to take their medicine.

ORelated imagene company, Organvo, is producing 3D printed liver tissues that allows for the faster development of pharmaceutical treatments.  Other companies are developing 3D printed organs, such as hearts, out of materials that the body doesn’t reject as strongly as a transplanted organ would.  Others are developing 3D printed skin for the treatment of burns.  The success of early trials of these has been very positive, and promises to revolutionise healthcare.

As the technology evolves, the cost of a 3D printed item is dropping, opening up the range of patients who can benefit from it.  What does this mean to all of us?  It means that medicine is moving towards treating us more and more as individuals, with medicines, implants, and prosthetics tuned to our exact needs, and available to us faster than has historically been the case.

3D printing is one technology that is improving healthcare.  To read about others, click here.

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3D printing taxation issues and impacts

Technology is turning the world upside down for manufacturing and distribution

In 3D printing, we once again have a new technology that could upend supply chains, business models, customer relationships — entrepreneurship itself. 3D printing could do to physical goods what cloud computing is now doing to digital services; what the PC, internet and smart mobility have done to computing; what outsourcing did to software development and business processing. That is, take mass distribution and innovation to the next level, while realigning the very geography of work and trade.

Why address 3D now?

Any significant technology that emerges has a few things in common. It impacts different industries at different times, places and levels of disruption. It poses both opportunity and risk. And it raises tax, legal and policy implications that can trip up corporate leaders and global policymakers alike as they are in full stride toward the future.

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3D Printing of manufactured goods: An updated analysis

From the legal firm, Reed Smith:

“Over the past two years, Reed Smith has published a comprehensive white paper—3D Printing of Medical Devices: When a Novel Technology Meets Traditional Legal Principles—examining the legal issues associated with 3D printing of medical devices. Over that time, 3D printing has become even more widespread in the medical realm as well as the marketplace as a whole. Almost daily, a new 3D printed product is being designed, marketed, or sold.

This white paper, 3D Printing of Manufactured Goods: An Updated Analysis, complements and expounds on the issues raised by the first edition and examines the legal ramifications and risks associated with all aspects of 3D printing and the different products that this novel technology is capable of creating. While the technology is still in its infancy and the law is untested in many respects, understanding the legal issues is the first step to avoiding potential pitfalls for anyone associated with 3D printing, from designers, to manufactures, to sellers, to consumers.

The chapters that follow include a wide range of developing legal, safety, and security issues:

  • Constitutional Issues (regarding 3D printed guns)
  • Commercial Litigation
  • Product Liability
  • 3D Printing/Component Parts/Raw Materials
  • Insurance Issues
  • Intellectual Property Issues
  • Data Privacy
  • Environmental Safety

This white paper, along with the first edition, is meant to be a comprehensive, up-to-date resource, on the legal issues that are involved in 3D printing. As the law and technology develops, new and updated chapters will be released, with the prior editions serving as building blocks.”

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Daimler 3D prints its first truck spare parts in aluminium

The working cavity of the SLM laser printer: as the work platform is raised, the powdered aluminium/silicon material moves to the side to reveal the contours of the thermostat covers.Daimler has used 3D printing technology to produce its first metal spare part – a thermostat cover for Mercedes-Benz truck models whose series production ceased 15 years ago – and seen the part pass of all the stages of the manufacturer’s stringent quality assurance process.

3D printing can produce metal parts that are exceptionally strong and thermally resistance, making it particularly suitable for producing mechanically and thermally stressed components, as well as parts that are only required in small numbers – where conventional production might prove costly.

The technique for 3D metal printing uses selective laser melting (SLM), which involves the layer-by-layer application of powdered aluminium/silicon material (ALSi10Mg) that is then melted together using one or more laser energy sources.


3D Printing at Northern Ireland’s Nerve Centre

Getting started with the BQ Hephestos 2 3D printer build.An exciting new project in Northern Ireland is bringing 3D Printing to new users in schools. The Nerve Centre, a creative media arts and education centre, has developed a new 3D printing project, offering 16 schools across Northern Ireland the opportunity to build their own Hephestos 2 3D printer, along with training on how to use it across the curriculum.

And once the teachers have built the 3D printer and shown that they can use it, it is theirs for their school to keep.

The Nerve Centre is also home to one of Ireland’s first FabLabs, which delivers community access to training and education around digital design and fabrication for learners of all ages and abilities. Furthermore, the Nerve Centre delivers curriculum mapped training in Creativity, Technology and STEAM based learning to almost 5,000 teachers per year.


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Who needs the Paris Climate Accords when you have 3D printing?

Al Gore’s new “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” has him haranguing leaders who resist the Paris climate accords. Without stringent controls, he says, corporate greed will spew out carbon emissions and destroy the ecosystem. The only path to a sustainable world, he insists, lies in stepped-up government action.

That’s questionable on its face, partly because many companies have pledged to reduce emissions regardless of regulation. But the more important story is that new digital manufacturing technologies are going to substantially reduce pollution as a matter of course, whether companies wish it or not.

At the center of these technologies is 3D printing, which uses digital files to drive smaller, more flexible production lines than are economical with conventional manufacturing. 3D printing is still developing and is only now spreading to mass production. But in the next five to 10 years it should account for a sizable share of industry. As it matures, it will improve companies’ environmental performance in multiple ways.

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Supply chain optimisation using technology in manufacturing

Technology-enabled processes are providing manufacturers a bird’s eye view of the entire supply line. This comes with its benefits and challenges

Location is no longer an indicator of taste—whether in the food you eat, the clothes you wear or the furniture you buy. It is not outlandish to demand guacamole in Mysore, distressed jeans in Bikaner or an IKEA sofa in the heartland of Matheran.

The exponential improvement in the price performance of the digital and machine learning infrastructure is a key driver of adoption (Shutterstock.com)This is at least partly because the processes that used to frame the production of a good—whether a pail of paint or a bottle of antiseptic lotion—are no longer limited by their proximity to material, the ready availability of freight-fit highways or the closeness of distribution centers. Increasingly beholden to customer’s changing tastes, they are instead moving continuously outward to include more functions that render the modern supply chain more global, complex and diverse and yet also more agile, efficient and productive.

Actively driving this trend forward is technology. Dominated by big data, cloud and IOT, technology-enabled processes are providing manufacturers a bird’s eye view of the entire supply line that is at once far more comprehensive in its reach as well as far more detailed in its scope simply due to enhanced visibility.

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3D Printing could provide mass-production flexibility for MROs, OEMs

A new 3D printing system could help steer the aviation applications of additively manufactured parts in a new direction.

Stratasys H2000 System“When we look at the aftermarket and the MRO space, the benefit isn’t necessarily in printing different parts or lighter-weight parts, but it’s in changing the economics of producing those parts. It’s the ability to stock digitally, not carry inventory of dozens of different aircraft configurations for years,” says Scott Sevcik, Stratasys vice president for manufacturing solutions. He adds that the ability to produce larger, repeatable parts on-demand could provide immense flexibility for MRO providers.

The company’s new H2000 is unique in that it lays up printing material horizontally rather than in the traditional vertical method. Not constrained by a build envelope like traditional 3D printing, parts created on the H2000 can ostensibly be as long as a customer desires.

Stratasys developed the system’s requirements with input from OEMs including Boeing and Ford Motor Co. Both companies are exploring applications for the H2000 system, including parts such as aircraft panels and interior closet doors, which Stratasys displayed at a VIP event for potential buyers at its headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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Why drug testing may be the most important application of 3D Bioprinting

3D bioprinting is, needless to say, great cause for excitement. Usually, most people’s minds go immediately to one idea: the idea that in the future, we may be able to 3D print working human organs that can actually be transplanted into patients, saving their lives without requiring a donated organ from another person. It’s understandable that people are excited about that prospect; 3D bioprinted organs potentially carry tremendous advantages. People could receive lifesaving organ transplants right away, without having to wait for a donor match, eliminating the years-long wait lists as well as the guilt that comes from benefiting from the death of another person. In addition, the idea is that 3D printed organs are formed from the patient’s own stem cells, eliminating the risk of rejection and the need for immunosuppressive drugs.

In reality, we probably won’t see 3D printed, transplantable human organs for several years yet. 3D printing an organ is more than just 3D printing layers of cells into the shape of a kidney or liver; those organs must be able to carry out all of the distinct functions of their natural counterparts, and they have to be capable of integrating with the body’s existing systems, which involves the development of nerves and blood vessels. Progress is being made in the development of 3D printed blood vessel networks, and the advancement that scientists have made over the last couple of years towards 3D printed organs really is remarkable, with working thyroid glands and ovariesbeing transplanted into mice, for example.

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US Navy can now 3D print submarines on the fly for SEALs

It usually takes the Navy around five months to build even the smallest submarines to ferry Navy SEALs into and out of combat zones — but thanks to new technology, the Navy’s most elite warfighters could slap together a submersible hull in just a few weeks.

navy submarines 3d-printing header photo

That’s the promise behind the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator (OMTD), the U.S. military’s first 3D-printed submarine hull, unveiled by the Navy on July 24. Fabricated by the high-tech Big Area Additive Manufacturing 3D printing machine at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the 30-foot submersible hull was inspired by the SEAL Delivery Vehicles used by the branch and U.S. Special Operations Command to deploy Navy special warriors and their gear into particularly dangerous areas.

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