3D printing is definitely the 'wave of the future', but it is also the 'wave of the present'. Although additive technology has just recently been 'discovered' by the mass media, and articles about the ability to quickly and cost effectively produce models and working devices almost as if you were using a Star Trek replicator, the technology has already been successfully deployed and is in commercial use all around us.
One of the leading 3D printing companies, Materialise, just celebrated its 20th anniversary. That's right. They have been around, growing, innovating, and developing exciting new applications for their technology, including 3D printing robot parts, for two decades. And, in October of this year, they opened a new US headquarters facility in Plymouth, Michigan to provide state of the art services and support.
Surprisingly, their biggest market is the orthopaedic implant industry. Their SurgiCase products and services enable the creation of high precision, personally customized, surgical guides that are 3D printed then utlized by the surgeon to enhance the overall surgery quality, efficiency, and patient outcomes. Instead of forcing the surgeon and patient to fit into the constraints of existing standardized tools, the Materialise SurgiCase process allows the creation of a custom set of tools to match the needs of each individual operation.
According to the company:
“Materialise can now provide a complete solution to its partners for total knee replacement from their location in the United States. The purpose of a surgical guide is to reduce the cost and complexity of a procedure and may result in: fewer surgical instruments to sterilize, decreased OR time, faster patient recover and increased longevity of the implant. In addition, the surgeon is able to try different approaches before operating and can avoid having to make critical decisions on the spot. The process of creating guides includes several steps:
1. A patient’s leg is scanned (MRI/CT) and the data is uploaded to an online case management system
2. A 3D digital model and a surgical plan is generated for that patient
3. Surgeon fine-tunes and approves the surgical plan
4. Patient specific guides are designed per surgical plan, manufactured and sent to the surgeon
5. Surgeon uses the guides to transfer the surgical plan to the surgery
The guides are manufactured by selective laser sintering stations. The production process is planned, controlled and tracked by Materialise’s Magics e-RP software. Magics e-RP automates the complete rapid prototyping and AM process from order and data preparation, through platform scheduling and machine monitoring, to production planning and part tracking. It provides an overview of all operations and ensures process traceability which is critical for medical production.”