3D Printing is becoming an important tool in nearly every industry today, but one area where 3D Printing is really making an impact is in the medical field.
Doctors and surgeons can use 3D Printed organ or bone models to explain to patients or students the details of a surgery or to practice the surgery itself. Other surgeons are actually designing their own prototypes of new surgical tools or bone replacement options. The challenge, historically, is that 3D Printing can be expensive and difficult to complete. But one mechanical engineer, along with 3Diligent – a rapid manufacturing service provider with expertise in metal 3D Printing / additive manufacturing - has found a way to make this process easier for surgeons.
Mechanical Engineer, Jody Stallings, began his career in automation design and robotics, but he moved into the medical industry in 1990 when he was hired by an orthopedic knee replacement company. They asked him to utilize his experience to automate the process for finishing knee implants. It was a three-year project and the result was a new process that produces a knee implant in minutes instead of hours.
Recognizing the benefit of 3D Printing in orthopedics, in 1999 Jody founded Industrial Creations Inc., a privately held company in Palm City, Florida. At Industrial Creations, he works with orthopedic surgeons to create prototype designs to help enhance surgical procedures that the surgeons can pitch to companies for production. The surgeons work with Jody to brainstorm ideas for improved surgical techniques and to help bring them to reality. In addition to designing and making the parts, he also supports the doctors’ presentation to the companies that might buy the innovation.
Jody’s process begins when an orthopedic surgeon approaches him with an idea and he then models that using computer-aided design (CAD) software. Jody uses his own desktop ABS 3D printer to fabricate the first conceptual models and get the surgeon to a point where they are happy with the design and are confident the part will be functional.
Up to this point, when Jody is using his own time and printer, it’s easy to manage expenses. However, when it comes time for a real functional prototype, that means working with metal and that’s when the costs start to increase. It’s important to Jody’s clients that costs are managed, as surgeons are often doing this on their own time and paying for it from their own pocket.
Cost effectiveness is one of the reasons that Jody works with 3Diligent. 3Diligent is an innovative rapid manufacturing services provider offering CAD/CAM-based fabrication services such as 3D Printing, CNC machining, and casting. 3Diligent provides expert assistance throughout the quoting and production process, offering cost-effective access to a broad range professional and industrial printing technologies and materials.
At the metal production stage, Jody commonly works with 17-4 stainless steel, which is the standard material for orthopedic instrumentation. However, if he’s creating implants, there’s a need for more unique materials including titanium or cobalt-chromium. These are capabilities that 3Diligent brings to bear.
Jody’s specialty is designing parts with manufacturing in mind. This requires thinking about manufacturability at every step so that the product design is not so complex and complicated that it can’t be manufactured. Before 3D Printing was capable of fabricating high quality metal parts, Jody had to design each part with machining in mind. This significantly limited the complexity of his designs as well as the dimensions and shapes of the parts. With 3D Printing, his designs are much more streamlined. 3D Printing helps him to manufacture more complicated parts with fine details that would be too hard to machine.
One example of this is when implant designs need to be porous to encourage bone growth. Adding porosity is very difficult in a machining application, because it relies on a laser taking material away from a solid part or a secondary material being applied. But with 3D Printing, that porosity can be built into the design and accurately output by the printer.
One of Jody’s more recent projects is a collaboration with Dr. Brian G. Burnikel, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who had an idea to overcome the debilitation that comes when a patient with a hip implant gets an infection. The current process is to pull out the implant and fill the void with antibiotic cement. This cement does harden, but it can’t provide function and stability like the previous hip prosthesis. Thus, the patient has limited mobility and persistent pain.
Dr. Burnikel’s idea was for a temporary implant that provides a scaffold framework inside of the bone cement. This can be used with the antibiotic bone cement to provide a solution that both gets rid of the infection and lets the patient have much more mobility. The design of the implant features an adjustable neck angle and certain other features to make it easier to implant and remove after the infection is gone.
Jody designed the part, then turned to 3Diligent to have it 3D printed in stainless steel. Dr. Burnikel then tried the part out in a cadaver lab and the implantation was a great success. Dr. Burnikel has now begun engaging orthopedic device manufacturing companies to see about selling his idea for broader use.
The process described above provides a good example of the value of 3Diligent. 3Diligent resembles Uber or Lyft for rapid manufacturing. The 3Diligent team has qualified and onboarded nearly 100 partner service providers across North America with varying equipment, materials, and areas of expertise.
While monetary savings and quality were the key benefits of the Dr. Burnikel case example, time savings and convenience from its broad range of capabilities are others. Jody has also found 3Diligent to be a great solution for him and his customers because it saves him the time he used to spend researching 3D Printing vendors and contacting them for quotes. He would sometimes call as many as 20 different vendors for bids. In addition to being time consuming, that process also worried Jody for the security of sharing his designs, as he was unsure which providers he could trust.
Now, with 3Diligent, Jody simply uploads his STL files to www.3Diligent.com and lets 3Diligent present optimal solutions available through its network of extensively vetted supply partners. Lastly, he appreciates the quality assurance role that 3Diligent takes on for its customers. Bids and parts are delivered promptly, and the product has been consistently high quality, with 3Diligent committed to resolving any issues should they ever arise.
Seamlessly accessing the universe of cutting edge 3D Printing solutions has never been so easy.
3Diligent is an innovative rapid manufacturing services provider offering CAD/CAM-based fabrication services. 3Diligent uses data science to analyze customer Requests for Quote (RFQs) and identify the optimal suppliers in its network of qualified providers for every project. 3Diligent’s next-generation approach to rapid manufacturing allows customers to simplify their procurement and service providers to get more out of their capital investments. 3Diligent counts companies from startups to Fortune 500 enterprises. For more information, visit http://www.3Diligent.com/.