Additive manufacturing established early roots in the healthcare industry more than 20 years ago by creating implantable devices, hearing aids and affordable orthodontics. Recent advances that create even stronger materials have provided new opportunities.
Freed from the boundaries of traditional materials, additive manufacturing allows engineers to design more organically, optimizing weight-to-strength ratios with design flexibility. The process also has the benefits of using less material and producing less waste.
There are opportunities to leverage this new process in healthcare, beyond traditional applications, by using rapid prototyping and looking at the process as a strategic business manufacturing technology.
At GE Healthcare we aim to develop products that help clinicians predict, diagnose, treat and monitor health issues in patients earlier and more effectively. Recent advances in manufacturing technologies like additive are also helping us to tap into the creative power of crowdsourcing to help us meet those needs.
Establishing a Knowledge Base
Engineers are re-thinking how they design. They are exploiting various 3D printing technologies to create better products for a 21st century healthcare environment. This requires design engineers to work differently. They have to visualize and expand old design methods—ones that have been programmed into them since college—and move to additive processes.
To accelerate the learning curve on additive technology, process engineers conduct pilot evaluations of additive processes. They start by applying the technology to appropriate components. This helps capture the “secret sauce” of the additive process while establishing design parameters including material composition, mechanical integrity, dimensional tolerances, overall uniformity and interactions between additive components and the other components used to create the final product.
There are great opportunities for additive in printing everything from X-ray components to flexible electronic circuits. The diversity of applications on which to experiment will encourage aggressive learning and knowledge capture to grow and make 3D printing a key manufacturing technology for years to come.
The Benefits of Crowdsourcing
We believe great ideas can be found both inside and outside our company, which is why we’ve embraced solutions such as crowdsourcing in this technology. By connecting with other innovators, we also open up our creativity and increase entrepreneurship to find better outcomes for healthcare more quickly.
GE and NineSigma have been working together to help drive the development of additive technologies with a 3D printing production quest for advanced materials. Three winners of the prototype contest were announced earlier this week. Their submissions were evaluated for geometric precision and overall mass and volume. Each winner will receive a $50,000 prize.
Printing Our Future
Additive technology is clearly driving a renaissance in manufacturing, and it’s also having an impact on how engineers design. There’s great potential for change in robotics, injection molding, metal castings and adaptive manufacturing, just to name a few. Watch out for incredible innovation in the future as additive ramps up across the globe.
Mike Hoge is GE Healthcare general manager of Advanced Manufacturing.