3D printing has been a hot topic for the past several years, with the cost of printers coming down dramatically, to the point where they are becoming a consumer item. Aside from its use for prototyping parts, 3D printing medical devices remains a novelty. Lately, however, there have been some developments with the technology that could make it a viable process for the mass production of parts. Several weeks ago, I posted about Fraunhofer Institute’s ability to print multiple plastic, ceramic, glass and metal materials in a single part.
An article in MIT Technology Review highlights Hewlett-Packard’s new Jet Fusion technology for high-speed printing of high-strength plastic parts. Printing speed and part strength have been the major limiting factors with 3D printing of production-quality parts. If the HP technology can truly rival the speed and part performance characteristics of injection molding, it will be a definite game-changer.
3D printing medical devices enables parts to be built that have very complex geometries, parts that can’t be economically produced by any traditional method. With injection molding, good part design practice precludes having undercuts in the part. With 3D printing medical devices, that is no longer a constraint. Not having to worry about undercuts in the part means that designers will be free to create any internal part geometry they can imagine – venous-like capillary structures and other anatomical geometries are all possible. Parts will be able to provide functionality here-to-fore impossible to achieve. That is the real advantage of 3D printing medical devices, and if the HP technology is as quick and robust as reported, it will be a significant advancement, one that could revolutionize medical device design.