Despite 3D printing being a relatively young technology, it is fundamentally changing the way we prototype and test medical devices – but what are the advantages? Potential challenges? What impact will it have on medical device manufacturing?
What is 3D printing?
3D printing brings together various processes to create a fully formed device or component of almost any geometry from a single digital file. An object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created.
New advances in 3D printing have led to a drop in the cost of equipment, with improved technology and an increased range of engineering materials available this technique is becoming more popular in research and development departments worldwide.
It removes the need for more traditional manufacturing processes such as milling, grinding or sheet metal, and allows for quick and cost-effective prototyping.
Advantages of 3D printing in Research and Development
- High-speed, low-cost protoyping
- Reduces time between design iterations
- Highlights potential risk areas early on
- Faster route to market
- Inspires innovation
Potential challenges of in-house 3D printing
- Cost and reliability of hardware
- Size and design restrictions
- Regulatory implications
ITL have used their 2 state-of-the-art 3D printers which both run on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. FDM printers work by extruding a thermoplastic polymer through a heated nozzle and depositing it onto a build platform. It is a significantly cheaper and quicker method for producing prototypes as opposed to more expensive technologies such as, Stereolithography (SLA) or Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
As technology develops further, the 3D printing process will become faster and more cost-efficient, enabling R&D to experiment with different techniques and printing materials. It also opens up the potential for designing inexpensive jigs & fixtures for manufacturing alongside the ability for development of moulds for casting plastic and rubber parts in-house.
For example, ITL collaborated with Kings College London (KCL) to develop three prototypes to be used in an MRI scanner, requiring all components to be plastic and non-metallic, therefore lending itself to the 3D printing process.
ITL Mechanical Engineer, Tom Haydon commented,
“It’s the perfect tool for Research and Development as it allows us to quickly prototype and test small components in a short space of time. This permits highly iterative design changes which were not possible with traditional manufacturing methods”
Dan Hollands, Mechanical Engineer said,
“3D printing has played a huge role in R&D, it provides a lot of freedom to develop products and push the boundaries with experimentation – as ITL is both R&D and a manufacturer it allows our engineers to be more radical with our designs and test prototypes in-house before implementing changes.”
We have entered a world where prototypes are built at speed for a considerably lower price, but this method is not suitable for every project. 3D printing is still unable to compete with more traditional manufacturing techniques such as injection moulding in terms or speed and cost.
With 40 years’ experience as a contract manufacturer, ITL will continue to push the boundaries and utilise the latest advancements in high end, precision 3D printing alongside more traditional manufacture methods.
We are seamlessly able to handle all your manufacturing needs from initial concept to full scale commercial production.
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