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3D Printing in The New Year (2019 Edition)

As with every other month, the new year brought many exciting new developments to the world of additive manufacturing.

We begin our news tour with a familiar name…

The Verge reports on a new announcement by MakerBot.  MakerBot, which has gone through various stages of tumultuous evolution and revolution over its nine years, is now owned by Stratasys.

Now, the company’s latest 3D printer, the MakerBot Method, has been announced.  The device aims “to bridge the gap between its parent company’s expensive industrial machines, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the cheaper desktop printers MakerBot is known for.”

Set for an early 2019 shipping date, the MakerBot Method will supplement “MakerBot’s Replicator desktop printer line.  The $6,499 price tag is more than twice the cost of MakerBot’s core Replicator+, and the same as the extra-large Z18.”

As one can imagine, the MakerBot Method 3D printer comes packed with exciting features and technologies.  However, the DIY makers who made MakerBot’s Replicator line famous and successful in the first place will continue to be disappointed as the Method is another departure from their DIY ethos.  Evidently, the company has chosen to go the route of Apple with their machines’ hardware and software: the Method’s “moving parts are neatly hidden, and prints are locked behind transparent doors, instead of sitting in an open frame.  Below the printing area, two neat pop-out drawers hold spools of printing plastic.  It’s a dramatic contrast to MakerBot’s first printers, which were open-source wooden kits inspired by the lo-fi RepRap project.”

This is the aesthetic MakerBot are shooting for with the Method, however – the company wants the device to be a “reliable, easy-to-use printer, which will be a step up from cheaper desktop machines.”  The Method features “a more rigid frame allowing its plastic extruder to move faster without shaking the printer, and MakerBot claims it’s up to twice as fast as a desktop printer.  Its build chamber is heated, so the entire print job cools at an even rate.  Ideally, this means users can make tight-fitting machine parts without worrying about size variation.”

The Method will also ship with multiple extruders.  The company explains this innovative new 3D printer is aimed at designers.  However, MakerBot does aim for its more advanced features to eventually “trickle down to their cheaper printer lineup.”

Elsewhere in the 3D printing industry, additive manufacturing had a big impact on medicine and the health industry, as always:

3D Print recently ran a piece concerning yet another medical application for additive manufacturing.  In this case, 3D printing can “aid in a process called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR.”  This research was conducted by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

Apparently, “more than one in eight people aged 75 and older in the United States develop moderate to severe blockage of the aortic valve, often caused by calcified deposits which build up on the valve’s leaflets and prevent them from fully opening and closing.  Many of these patients are not healthy enough to undergo open heart surgery, so TAVR is an alternative involving the deployment of an artificial valve via a catheter inserted into the aorta.”

Of course, cardiologists must ensure the valve is the precise right size.  If the valve isn’t the right size, the procedure could prove fatal for the patient.  “It’s a challenge to select the correct size without directly examining the patient’s heart.”  This is where 3D printing and the team from Harvard University come in.

These researchers “have come up with a 3D printing workflow which creates models of individual patients’ aortic valves using CT scan data, in addition to a ‘sizer’ device which helps cardiologists determine the proper valve size.”

As Dr. James Weaver, Senior Research Scientist at the Wyss Institute explains: “If you buy a pair of shoes online without trying them on first, there’s a good chance they’re not going to fit properly. Sizing replacement TAVR valves poses a similar problem, in that doctors don’t get the opportunity to evaluate how a specific valve size will fit with a patient’s anatomy before surgery.    Our integrative 3D printing and valve sizing system provides a customized report of every patient’s unique aortic valve shape, removing a lot of the guesswork and helping each patient receive a more accurately sized valve.”

The researchers “created a software program which uses parametric modeling to generate virtual 3D models of the leaflets using seven coordinates on each patient’s valve that are visible on CT scans. The 3D models were then merged with the CT data and adjusted so they fit into the valve correctly. The resulting model, which incorporates the leaflets and their calcified deposits, was then 3D printed in multiple materials.”

“The system successfully predicted leak outcome in 60 to 73% of the patients, depending on the type of valve each patient had received, and determined 60% of the patients had received the correctly sized valve.”

Other health issues were also tackled:

Motherboard reports on an interesting project developed by LSU Engineering Student Meagan Moore.  Moore has created a full-sized 3D printed human body model made from bioplastic.  Dubbed ‘Marie,’ this medical model stands at five-foot-one and weighs fifteen pounds.

Marie was created in order to develop more effective radiation treatments for cancer – hence her name.  (The model was named after Marie Curie, the famed radiation scientist.)  Specifically, Marie will allow researchers in the future “to test real-time radiation exposure and figure out optimal radiation therapy dosing for treating conditions like cancer.”  Marie “has a detachable head, and a 36-gallon water storage capacity for up to eight hours.”

Moore explains “Marie is the amalgamation of five full-body scans of women taken at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.”  Following these full-body scans, “over the course of 136 hours, LSU’s BigRep Industrial 3D printer churned out Marie.  But the 3D printer had to produce Marie in four chunks,” so Moore was forced to use “a combination of soldering, friction stir welding, and sandblasting” to piece Marie fully together.  Obviously, Marie is far from the product of bioprinting – but she will greatly help research within the biomedical industry.

Indeed, according to Moore “Marie could potentially [help researchers develop] personalized treatments for people with complex forms of cancer.  Children and breast cancer patients have really differing morphology, which is usually very difficult to treat.  I find the more we learn about any body, the more complex it’s going to be.  We’re still getting medicine wrong on a lot of levels.  We have a lot to learn.”

3D printing and projects like Marie are already helping.

Finally, we wrap up our new year’s news tour with more medical and health device breakthroughs brought about by the wonders of additive manufacturing:

TCT Magazine was on hand at Autodesk University London 2018 when Disrupt Disability “unveiled the world’s first generatively designed modular wheelchair” prototype.

Rachael Wellach, who is the Founder and CEO of Disrupt Disability, has been working with Steve Cox, a 3D Tech Consultant with AMFORI Consulting.  Together, they “have delivered a proof of concept for the goal they have been working towards for nearly two years.”

Disrupt Disability began as a series of hackathons, wherein suggestions from wheelchair users and professional designers were taken under serious consideration.  The company’s mantra “of able-bodied people don’t wear the same shoes every day, so why should wheelchair users use the same wheelchair every day” has served as the company’s guiding principle.

The wheelchair prototype is “comprised of five interchangeable modules, customized in accordance with [Wellach’s] measurements and preferences, puts the user forward and itself in the background, and has the potential to be retailed under the 2,000 GBP price point of typical personalized models…all that’s left to fine-tune is the weight, which will come as metal additive manufacturing technology develops.”

The wheelchair’s modular capabilities are vital to the project: “there are five core modules: the seat, backrest, rear wheel axle, cast support and footrest, can all be swapped out to better suit the function at any given time.”

As those working on the project explained, “the lightweighting of a wheelchair is as important as it is in the automotive and aerospace industries.  It means less material usage, and less cost in both the production and shipping stages, but most importantly it makes life easier for the user. In a world where [wheelchair users] are continually restricted, be it through accessibility, stigmatism, or mobility – making life easier is Disrupt Disability’s motivation.”

As Cox adds: “I’ve been involved with Disrupt Disability for two years and right from the very beginning I’ve had this itch I wanted to scratch of throwing Generative Design at a wheelchair to see what it could produce in terms of making something as lightweight as possible, so it takes the least amount of effort for the user to move around. Casting into the future when metal additive manufacturing is more efficient, it will give you the opportunity to put a lattice structure inside instead of having them solid which would save more weight.”

Indeed, the prototype’s seat was designed inside Fusion 360’s Sculpt workspace.  In the future, the seat will be SLS printed.  “The simulation capabilities not only gave the partners the confidence to print the seat, but the seamless way in which Fusion 360 enabled alterations to be made post-simulation, then updated and run through the simulation again, was a key part of an efficient iteration process.”

Cox concludes, referring to the wheelchair prototype: “there’s no way I’m pretending this is a final product, it’s there as a thought-prompter and discussion promoter…one of Rachael’s visions is making a wheelchair more of a wearable device, in the same way spectacles are a medical aid but they’ve become a fashion item.  Why can’t we do the same for wheelchairs?  A key part of this was clearly to make a modular wheelchair which allows the user to A) customize it according to their preference and B) change it on a day to day basis depending on what they are doing.  I think this proof of concept shows this could potentially work.”

That’s all for the beginning of the year…

What else will 2019 bring?  Keep reading Replicator World to find out!

Image Courtesy of The Verge

Quotes Courtesy of The Verge, 3DPrint, Motherboard, and TCT Magazine

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