Here are three basic ways that 3D printing can help you get your medical device project off the ground.
Jim Medsker, Keystone Solutions Group
Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing, began to surface in the 1980s. Since then, the technology has quickly become a valuable tool for creating plastic prototype parts in a rapid fashion. Like many emerging technologies, however, the early days of 3D printing had drawbacks.
The equipment and materials were prohibitively expensive for most companies, thus creating the initial demand for 3D printing service firms. Many of the first printers on the market came with a price tag close to $300,000. Further, the parts created were primarily for visual purposes only and typically did not have the surface finish, strength or other properties necessary to make them a fully functional part.
Roll the clock forward to the present day and the technology is not only capable of creating fully functional parts in many applications, it’s also accessible for small companies and hobbyists. Today there are several 3D printer options in the sub-$1,000 range, and many in the $3,000–$10,000 range, that produce high-quality, structurally capable parts.
In the early days of the technology, materials were limited to specialized plastics with limited mechanical and thermal properties. Today materials, processes and resulting parts are wide-ranging, including:
- Many plastic resins;
- Elastic and dual durometer components;
- Biocompatible scaffold materials to promote tissue growth;
- Synthetic food products.
This advance led to the capability to produce everything from organ tissue to full-size vehicles and just about anything one can imagine in between.
For medical device startups, this means additive manufacturing is now a key asset for not only creating parts, but also in launching companies.