By: 12 September 2018
Is 3D printing the next breakthrough for orthotics?

John Beckett, MD of Europac 3D, explains how they help clients use 3D printing and advanced manufacturing technology to enable new product innovation to accelerate the design process – bringing revolutionary medical devices to the market faster than ever before

In recent years, there’s been an increase in partnerships formed between 3D printing companies and the medical device industry to drive the next generation of healthcare products and applications.

Crispin Orthotics are a HCPC registered clinic specialising in the production and maintenance of orthosis. The company was seeking a new 3D printing solution and Computer Aided Design (CAD) software package that could meet the growing demand for orthotics while reducing printing costs and increasing the speed of part production.

The company was attracted by HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer as it was shown to deliver a solution that is up to 10 times faster and at a 50 per cent cost-per-part reduction, to comparable SLS technology. The increased speed and cost reduction achieved from the new HP machines meant that hundreds of customised and completely personal orthotics could be 3D printed overnight in a single twelve hour build process.

Crispin needed to ensure that the parts produced were strong and durable while still having enough flexibility to endure the rigours of every day human movement.

To demonstrate the outcomes and opportunities a number of parts were produced for testing the HP Multi Jet Fusion printer for testing by Crispin.

They were able to carry out a series of strength and impact tests, which were all passed, but what was particularly significant with the HP Multi Jet Fusion’s technology was how the parts produced had homogeneous strength in all three axes of the build and therefore the orientation of build did not affect the part strength or quality.

The HP 3D printer was paired with Siemens NX software featuring topology optimisation, which not only enables technicians to strip weight from the design but also add strength to key areas. The software also provides a ‘nesting’ capability which organises multiple 3D parts to fit perfectly together on the printer bed, reducing the number of print runs needed – increasing the speed while also reducing the cost of production.

The nesting capability allows parts to be packed closely together (up to 2mm) and also stacked on top of each other reaching the full height of 380mm of the build volume. The advantage of the HP system means that no support structure is required while building such complex shapes as the parts are naturally supported by the raw material powder in the bed, allowing for parts to be stacked repeatedly on top of each other.

To further put these new technologies to the test, Crispin Orthotics decided to use the Siemens NX CAD software and HP Multi Jet Fusion printer in a recent prosthetic project. The new 3D technologies allowed Crispin to develop a 3D-printed orthotic for the arm with an integrated joint at the elbow and an attachment at the end of the device which allows for the use of prosthetic devices. The single printed part was made from durable nylon material, which proved to be very lightweight and durable.

Mark Thaxter, Managing Director of Crispin Orthotics, said: “3D scanning and printing has revolutionised the speed and quality of parts we’re able to produce for clients.

“Having the ability to create a bespoke devise that is lightweight, durable and accurate to 0.2mm has obvious benefits to the user. The business also benefits from the speed of 3D printing parts as well as cost savings of approximately 40 per cent on each part by removing the need for multiple components in the supply chain and assembly.

“Using 3D scanning and printing also provides greater freedom on the design of products, particularly those with complex geometry. Having the ability to vary the thickness of the device in certain parts also allows us to produce devices not possible with current methods of manufacturing.”

These new technologies and quality 3D design and manufacturing have the potential to accelerate the production of devices within the medical industry, while significantly reducing costs for manufacturers.

The advances in 3D design and printing is leading the industry to being viewed in a new light, where its role is no longer about providing rapid prototyping, but manufacturing bespoke print-ready parts in the form of mass customisation.