A new research grant has been awarded to Grand Valley State University in Michigan that aims to fund the research efforts of both students and faculty as they explore 3D printing techniques used in the manufacturing of medical device technologies. The research grant will pair university students and faculty with two community partners on a two-and-a-half year collaborative research program that will explore 3D additive manufacturing for medical devices.
More than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students from Grand Valley State University will be joining a team of researchers from the applied Medical Device Institute (aMDI) and MediSurge to collaborate on the project. A state-of-the-art Carbon 3D printer has been installed in aMDI’s incubator space at the university’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences to help the team explore the process of 3D additive manufacturing.
“3D Additive Manufacturing (3DAM) has matured since its early inception in the 20th century,” said Brent Nowak, executive director at aMDI. “Advances in microelectronics, polymer chemistry and materials, software tools and design, and system design have resulted in a range of 3DAM methods. Collectively, these advances enable a greater precision, higher production rates, and lower waste. We are seeing, we believe, the advent of a new manufacturing tool beyond what is known as a 3D prototyping tool. Our focus in applied research at aMDI is to understand the crossover where the value of proposition for 3DAM production is greater than that of traditional manufacturing methods.”
Nowak said that 3DAM could soon be the gold standard in medical device manufacturing, especially with its ability to fabricate complex geometries that current manufacturing techniques cannot. While there are a variety of factors that will determine the future of 3DAM as a manufacturing tool, such as the type of medical device and whether it’s a polymer- or metal-based design, 3DAM does offer certain manufacturing possibilities that current technologies simply do not.
“Imagine today a small- or medium-sized business considering the investment in 3DAM as an additional tool to their current manufacturing capabilities,” Nowak said. “Beyond the ability of 3DAM to fabricate complex geometries by no other means, there are other factors that our work will address around the decision to contract out or even build internal 3DAM capabilities.”
These other factors, according to Nowak, include cost of entry, cost of operations, how to train and staff engineers and technicians, and other important factors. While the two-and-a-half year study may not be able to address all of these questions, they do hope that they will be able to contribute to the broader understanding. And to be able to explore these questions with university students contributing to the research is one of the biggest perks, according to Nowak.
“Graduate and undergraduate students in this program are immersed in a real-world, project-based study that requires in-depth analysis of engineering, manufacturing, and business elements,” he said. “There is nothing more educational, no greater learning than applying theory. I’m not sure where the definition originated, but there is a gap — a distance between invention and innovation. The invention is an idea realized, and innovation is a marketable product for the betterment of humankind. The students are innovating as they learn about the elements of cost, manufacturing, and regulatory impacts that are needed to realize a product. A good design is more than just a technical solution. These are the students that will be best prepared to lead industry, whether in medical devices, consumer products, aviation, or other applications of 3DAM. This program will develop, retain, and attract talent to this field and to manufacturing in general.”