Medical Device Manufacturing Turns to 3D Printing

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Imagine being able to produce bone implants, dentures or surgical tools in almost any conceivable design. This scenario came closer to reality in April 2016 when researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems in Dresden, Germany unveiled a new additive manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing) method at the Medtec medical technology show in Stuttgart.

According to the Fraunhofer researchers, the new technique has no limitation in terms of type or color of material for the medical components to be created. Metal, ceramics, glass, plastics can also be utilized. Interestingly, these components can be combined at the same time. Now the researchers are looking for partners to put their technology to good use, according to a press release from Fraunhofer.

One area in which the multi-material approach could be important is surgery: endoscopes frequently employ an instrument to first cut open tissue and then quickly close the blood vessels back up again using electric current. High-grade steel could be combined with ceramic components to prevent electricity from shocking the patient.

“The scope of practical applications to which 3D metal printing can be used in the arena of medical device manufacturing is truly extraordinary,” says Mark J. Cola, President and CEO of Sigma Labs, Inc. “With engineers visualizing new uses for metal-printed parts, a vast array of devices could be on tap to improve the lives of large patient populations.”

In 3D metal printing, a component is built up one microscopic layer at a time out of a metallic powder that is manipulated by a laser; a computer-aided design (CAD) blueprint tells the laser exactly how to shape the material—but finalizing that optimal blueprint can be an arduous process.

Sigma Labs has developed a proprietary, patent-protected, quality assurance software suite called PrintRite3D® that transforms the 3D printing process. In contrast to traditional quality assurance that is performed after-the-fact, PrintRite3D works in real-time to assist quality inspectors in sorting acceptable from suspect components.

The PrintRite3D® suite benefits medical device companies that are 3D-printing metal parts in three aspects. The first involves metallurgy: in addition to optimizing the structure/property/parameter qualities of metal parts, Sigma Labs’ software allows engineers to assess each part’s microstructure—scanning and collecting data on potential weaknesses (like “pores” in the metal). The second benefit involves geometry: the software helps capture images of every layer of metal as it is being incorporated into the part; this data, available digitally, gives inspectors the ability to detect any distortion as parts are made and adjust the machine accordingly in real-time. Finally, the software enhances a company’s productivity by collecting Big Data regarding the performance of multiple 3D printers at multiple locations into a single database.

With a core facility in Santa Fe, NM, Sigma Labs offers clients a comprehensive one-stop shop for 3D metal printing and process engineering; alternately, Sigma Labs can offer its suite to clients at their own facilities.

“The advances of 3D printing are being incorporated into the world of medicine sooner than many people ever thought possible,” adds Cola.

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