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Multi-jet fusion technology: a medical game-changer?

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The medical field is undergoing a transformation with the advent of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

This technology, particularly multi-jet fusion (MJF), is being hailed as a disruptive game-changer.

Luke Smoothy, an expert in 3D printing and the Director of Get It Made, delves into the emerging innovations and advantages offered by this rapidly advancing technology.

Forecasts point to significant growth in the medical 3D printing market, with sales projected to increase from just over £1.6 billion in 2022 to more than £3.2 billion in 2026.

While factors such as customisation, reduced production costs, and faster turnaround times are often cited, it is also important to consider the broader benefits.

The advantages of MJF in the industry

The utilisation of additive manufacturing has proven to be beneficial in various industries, addressing a wide range of needs.

From producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices to constructing isolation wards, additive manufacturing has also been instrumental in creating custom implants tailored to individual patients, thereby enhancing functionality and patient comfort.

One notable application of 3D printing is the production of surgical guides, which assist surgeons in performing complex procedures such as joint replacements and spinal surgeries.

By utilising these guides, surgeons can achieve greater accuracy and precision during operations, leading to improved success rates and reduced recovery times.

However, the potential of 3D printing in the medical field extends far beyond these current capabilities and is expected to revolutionise the industry in the coming years.

Multi-jet fusion technology, developed by HP, is a type of 3D printing that holds immense promise for medical innovation.

This powder-based additive manufacturing process selectively fuses layers of powder material using thermal energy.

MJF has gained recognition for its compatibility with the healthcare and medical sectors, as it enables the rapid production of biocompatible custom parts.

Notably, the production of custom orthotics and prosthetics has witnessed significant growth due to MJF’s ability to create intricate lattice structures that perfectly match the user’s body shape and skin tone.

Furthermore, 3D printing’s capacity to simplify complex geometries opens up possibilities for the creation of “smart materials.”

                             Luke Smoothy

These materials possess geometries that are nearly impossible to achieve using traditional manufacturing methods.

By incorporating these smart materials into current devices, their properties and performance can be enhanced.

Ongoing research includes the development of prosthetic limbs with built-in sensitivity, self-expanding stents, self-healing joint replacements, and drug delivery devices that respond to infection.

On-demand customisation: iOrthotics  

HP has achieved significant success in its collaboration with iOrthotics, an Australian manufacturer specialising in custom-made orthotic devices for podiatrists.

This partnership exemplifies the positive impact of MJF 3D printing technology on patient outcomes and waste reduction.

HP’s primary objective was to find a solution that would enable the production of higher quality custom orthotics.

Additionally, they aimed to ensure that these products were stronger and lighter compared to those manufactured using traditional methods.

The conventional approach involved using plaster of Paris casts, which was both inaccurate and messy, often resulting in orthotics that were uncomfortable to wear.

Moreover, the equipment used in traditional manufacturing, such as milling machines and grinders, occupied a significant amount of space, and the subtractive manufacturing processes were known for their wastefulness.

In fact, creating a pair of orthotics weighing only 100 grams required a staggering 1.5 kilograms of material.

To address these challenges, iOrthotics sought a better solution that integrated HP’s technology into a digital workflow.

This approach aimed to enhance speed, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness, enabling iOrthotics to produce custom orthotics on demand.

According to Podiatrist Ian Goodchild, “The goals for any orthotic device are to provide foot support, improve foot function, and correct alignment.

“The introduction of 3D scanning and printing presented an opportunity to enhance the quality of orthotic devices while also increasing production capacity and reducing waste associated with traditional methods.”

The implementation of a 3D scanning solution allowed for more precise measurements and improved portability, enabling the foot to be measured in a more natural position.

Additionally, custom software was developed to automate much of the design work required to create print-ready orthotics.

By adopting HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology, iOrthotics successfully met their criteria for strength, durability, economic viability, and quality.

Optimising efficiencies: Optima Recovery 

MJF technology, similar to HP’s technology, is revolutionising the field by enabling mass customisation and the rapid development of durable, lightweight, and consolidated parts.

This technological advancement provides a competitive advantage to medical innovators, including start-ups like Optima Recovery, by expediting their time-to-market.

Optima Recovery, in partnership with Athena 3D Manufacturing, aimed to create cost-effective, high-volume production quality parts for their innovative thermotherapy and cryotherapy device.

By leveraging HP’s MJF 3D printing technology, they were able to redesign 60 per cent of the parts, seamlessly transitioning from prototyping to production.

Thanks to MJF, the digitally manufactured parts for each device can be produced in just one and a half print builds, significantly reducing delivery time compared to traditional injection moulding and other technologies.

These consolidated parts not only offer enhanced performance but also reduce assembly time by 75 to 85 per cent in certain cases.

The future awaits

Coupled with rapid innovation, MJF technology has opened up exciting possibilities for various industries, particularly healthtech and medtech.

The integration of 3D printing with emerging technologies like AI and robotics is revolutionising manufacturing processes, ushering in a new era of automation and efficiency.

The ability to produce customised, biocompatible parts and simplify complex geometries will undoubtedly lead to further advancements and improvements in medical devices and treatments.

While challenges lie ahead, it is crucial for manufacturers to seize this opportunity and fully embrace 3D printing in the medical sector.

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