At the end of October, 3D printing giant Stratasys announced a new collaboration with the medical design and product development firm Worrell “to accelerate medical device development through the use of 3D printed injection molding (which Worrell refers to as ‘3D IM’).
Replicator World had a chance to interview Derek Mathers, Worrell’s Business Development Manager, about this new venture.
We asked Mr. Mathers how it came about: “3D IM has been around for a couple years now, however the true value of it hadn’t been realized for product development until now. We were put into communication with the inventor of this application, Nadav Sella [Stratasys’ Pre-Sale and Application Manager], who realized that there was significant opportunity for a partnership between our organizations to help each other learn more about this technology.”
“We are working together to make 3D IM a commonly adopted development process across every industry, to improve efficiency and get higher quality designs into the market faster.”
Mr. Mathers himself first became interested in 3D printing when he was a freshman in college. “I was…working on Capitol Hill for a U.S. Senator. Instead of going to a Senate hearing where Michael Vick was saving face by presenting with the Humane Society, I decided to go to the room next door that had a sign reading ‘3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing.”
The 3D printing process set his imagination on fire. As Mathers goes on to explain: “I was most passionate about the fact that for the first time in history, humans could create objects by building them up layer-by-layer using only the materials needed. This passion got me through working three jobs while taking 20 credits in order to pay for my international travels to Istanbul, China, and briefly Amsterdam. I went to these places so that I could see how companies are using 3D printing to accelerate the technology around us.”
Mathers continues: “I came across Worrell’s Shanghai office while I studied abroad there, and reached out to the company’s CEO Kai Worrell as soon as I returned because I heard that they were about to invest heavily in 3D printing technology for [the medical industry]. I absolutely had to be a part of it.”
Mr. Mathers has indeed become a part of it. As Worrell’s Business Development Manager, he has “the freedom to do what I need to do to grow our business. This means consulting to discover new solutions for our customers, utilizing the best available technology and working with our team of engineers to solve product development issues.”
A large part of Mathers’ job “is negotiating strategic partnerships – discovering ways we can work with the leaders of technology to give our clients an exclusive path into the future of medical device development.”
Which brought us back to talking about Worrell’s team up with Stratasys. Worrell is already “using FDM and PolyJet technology for Rapid Prototyping, which is nothing new to the world. Using these machines to test [their] designs enables [them] to gain a quick understanding of the design [they’ve] engineered.”
Now, however, Worrell is evolving their process. As Mr. Mathers explains, “our newest development in 3D printing that we use in our…process…is to actually make injection molds on our printer. We combine two materials – one to print our molds in just hours. We then process the molds and move them into our injection molding press, where we can instantly manufacture production-level prototypes. The benefit of using 3D Injection Molding is substantial – our designers are able to test their final designs before ever having to invest in tooling.”
As Mathers pointed out to us, the benefits of 3D IM include the ability “to produce production-level parts in just days, at a fraction of a cost of traditional molds. This enables [Worrell’s] designers to constantly iterate and produce new designs until they’ve finalized their design for manufacturing.”
This is a huge step-up from the traditional-tooling process. According to Mathers, “traditional tooling is expensive and a hassle to deal with, and the first run of parts is usually never correct. Our clients and designers have been frustrated by tooling their entire careers since expensive metal molds are usually rendered worthless with a small design change. 3D molds take just hours to print and can be quickly switched out of an aluminum mudset, making design iterations a delight instead of a budget breaking mistake.”
We asked Mr. Mathers what sorts of medical devices Worrell will print using injection-molded prototypes. He replied that “the bigger question here is what materials we can manufacture – and the answer is most thermoplastics, TPEs, and some thermosets. This enables us to make small batches of usually around 100 small to medium sized parts in PC, ABS, PP, Peek, and many other materials.”
He sees the medical industry being revolutionized by 3D printing: “It will start with making our current technologies better, such as 3D IM to injection molding. 3D printing will help introduce technology faster, allowing companies to rapidly introduce new medical devices to the marketplace and do so with higher quality products.”
“Next, it will be used in hospitals to support surgeons and doctors to improve their ability to care for a patient – whether it’s companies like Materialise creating titanium surgical guides to make complex surgeries simple, or companies like Oxford Performance Materials making titanium bone replacements.”
“Finally, in the future it will be used to rebuild human [bodies] before medical devices are ever needed, by creating and rebuilding organs lay-by-layer using your specific stem cells.”
For now, though, the medical industry must be educated in all the ways 3D printing can propel it into a bold new future. This is why, in Worrell and Stratasys’ press release, they have announced that they will jointly attend international tradeshows and host a series of workshops.
We concluded the interview by asking Mr. Mathers what sorts of things he, Worrell, and Stratasys would like to educate the medical industry about, when it comes to 3D printing.
He told us “that this 3D IM process is a monumental step for what has been a fairly unchanged product development process for a long time. By integrating 3D printing with injection molding, we are breathing fresh, exciting life into an industry that hasn’t changed much since its inception.”
“We are looking to educate new and existing PolyJet customers of Stratasys on how to enhance their development cycle, and provide Worrell’s customers with a higher quality and faster development process than any industrial design firm in the world.”
Images and Quotes Courtesy of Derek Mathers and Worrell