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Medical Case Studies

3D printing helps save lives

From battling diabetes to little Emma’s “magic arms,” medical professionals are using 3D printing to help them save lives and improve health.

Learn how health care heroes are innovating faster, breaking barriers and doing more with less thanks to 3D printing.

Orchid Design, a division of Orchid Orthopedic Solutions, helps bring orthopedic innovations to life. Its staff of designers and engineers work with medical professionals to design, prototype and test new orthopedic solutions. Orchid Design’s customers are Orthopedic OEM’s who develop and sell implants, instrumentation and minimally invasive devices.

According to Brian McLaughlin, Business Development Manager at Orchid Design, getting a new orthopedic device from the drawing board to manufacturing typically takes months. “It involves very high-precision design work, and of course it’s all subject to FDA approval,” says McLaughlin. “There’s no room for error.”

In the past, prototypes were used sparingly in orthopedic design work due to cost and time considerations

Most orthopedic devices are originally conceived by physicians, who work with specially trained design engineers like those at Orchid in order to make their concepts a reality. They describe what they want to the engineers, who create 3D designs using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software such as SolidWorks. It’s an iterative process that typically involves many rounds of edits.

While prototypes can be very helpful both for refining designs and verifying manufacturability, cost and time considerations often make them a luxury. “Most design shops outsource rapid prototyping because the high-end equipment required has traditionally been very expensive,” explains McLaughlin. “We used an outside vendor for rapid prototypes, and they did great work – but each prototype cost up to thousands of dollars, and took up to weeks to produce. It just wasn’t feasible to do that for every project.”

So Orchid Design, like its peers, used rapid prototyping sparingly where time and budget permitted. In most cases, the firm and its clients worked off CAD drawings, using them to help refine designs and then developed metal samples further along in the development cycle. Often, that was sufficient, McLaughlin said. But sometimes, design flaws emerged later in the process when they were expensive and time consuming to fix.

“We considered moving to in-house rapid prototyping over the years,” McLaughlin said. We’re always looking for new ways to help our customers accelerate time-to-revenue for new devices. Unfortunately, every 3D printer we evaluated either didn’t meet our resolution standards or was too expensive or both. Until we found the Objet30 Pro.”

High-resolution, high-precision printing with the Objet30 Pro 3D Printer

Models produced on the Objet30 Pro 3D Printer are smoothly surfaced and finely detailed. The strong model material and highly accurate printing enable thin walls and small moving parts. The models are ideal for painting; functional, fit and form testing; and vacuum forming.

“It took about 30 minutes to learn how to print with the Objet30 Pro and then we were off and running,” McLaughlin said. “Using Objet Studio software is simple and straightforward. Now we can print very high-resolution prototypes right in our office in a matter of hours. The Objet30 Pro makes it feasible for us to produce “prototypes for every project. And that’s had a major impact on the quality and manufacturability of our designs.”

Better quality and manufacturability of designs

McLaughlin said that the Objet30 Pro has helped improve the quality and manufacturability of designs. Often, something the designer sees on a rapid prototype, such as an undercut or some other area of difficulty, will cause them to tweak the design before it goes to the customer for review or to metal machining. Similarly, sometimes the customer will change the design after seeing a prototype. “Often, we hear: ‘You created it just as I described but now that I see it, I think we need to change X, Y or Z,’” McLaughlin said. “Giving them something solid they can see and touch, rather than just a CAD rendering or drawing, makes everything less abstract. There’s no doubt that the Objet30 Pro has helped Orchid turn out better designs.”

Rapid prototyping with the Objet30 Pro has been particularly helpful for determining the functional requirements for the very small parts commonly used in the orthopedic field. The Orchid team can print out a prototype at 5 to 10 times actual size to see how it will function and adjust the design if necessary.

Reduced overall product development times

Another major benefit to having in-house prototyping capabilities is the speed with which rapid prototypes can be printed. “Overall, we’ve compressed the time it takes to produce a rapid prototype from weeks to hours,” McLaughlin said. “We now produce rapid prototypes for virtually every project. And that’s helped us reduce average overall product development cycle by about 20 percent.”

Recently, a physician approached Orchid Design with an idea for a new spinal device that he wanted to explore very quickly. He described the concept to an Orchid staff designer on a Thursday. The designer spent Friday and Saturday creating CAD drawings that captured the concept, and by Monday night was ready to print out a 3D prototype.

He reviewed the prototype with the physician on Tuesday, got some feedback, and then worked on design refinements on Wednesday. By Thursday, he was ready to print a second 3D prototype. The physician brought that prototype to a meeting with potential investors on Friday. With the prototype in hand, the physician successfully communicated the design to investors and officially founded the company that day. “The physician told us that having a physical, working prototype was definitely a factor in his being able to land funding so quickly,” McLaughlin said.

In another example, Orchid Design worked with a client who was designing a plate that would be used for fractures. Using CT and MRI data and the Objet Alaris30, the designers were able to print 5 to 10 bones of varying surface geometry and 5 prototype plates, to see which plate design would be most versatile on different types of surfaces. “Outsourcing all of those prototypes to a service bureau would have cost at least $3,000 and taken weeks,” says McLaughlin. “With the Alaris30, we did it all in-house in a couple of days. In fact, we now print a lot of bones when we’re working on a project, to double check design and fit. That would have been cost prohibitive in the past.”

Helps drive more revenue for Orchid Design

In-house rapid prototyping capability has also helped Orchid Design earn more repeat business from happy clients. “Rapid prototyping, and the subsequent design enhancements it facilitates, really helps showcase our expertise not just in design, but also in manufacturability,” says McLaughlin. “And our customers remember that when it comes time to transfer the product into manufacturing. It gives them a really high degree of comfort about working with Orchid for the entire process.”

McLaughlin strongly believes that having the Objet30 Pro printer is a competitive advantage. “Until the Objet30 Pro came to market, high-resolution 3D printing was cost prohibitive for a company our size,” McLaughlin said. “Now that we have it, we use it for all our projects and the feedback from our customers has been terrific. It’s amazing to see someone’s face when you give them a real model that brings their idea to life. It really blows them away.”