Medical device industry embracing AM

AM is reshaping how parts are designed and manufactured while delivering efficiencies companies need to remain competitive.

Elizabeth Engler Modic, Editor
emodic@gie.net

Additive manufacturing (AM) has made significant in-roads in manufacturing, especially in the medical industry. Whether it’s an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), contract manufacturer, small- or medium-sized job shop, or hospital or medical facility, AM is delivering value to manufacturers. AM’s time-savings in design and manufacturing along with delivering higher value products is leading its growth.

In an article from McKinsey (https://bit.ly/mckinseyAM), the authors note AM’s four sources of value compared to traditional production.

First is AM’s design freedom, enabling production of almost any 3D shape with less cost, better performance, and often significantly lighter weight. Next, there’s no need for molds or fixed tooling since the parts can be unique, which paves the way for mass-scale customization. Third is elimination of time-consuming toolmaking and fabrication, reducing time to market by accelerating product development and production. Fourth, simplified maintenance and support of products by enabling production on demand, reducing the need for spare part inventory.

Enabling innovation with AM technology is essential for companies to remain resilient through supply chain issues as well as enabling a more sustainable process reducing waste and conserving energy. In many cases, a medical part can be produced as a single component instead of a two-piece component, the part can have more complex surface profiles held to precise tolerances, and production time can be dramatically reduced – some case studies presented by the Metal Powder Industries Federation (https://www.mpif.org) show savings of 70% compared to machining a part.

Throughout this issue you will find articles discussing AM in medical device production and other technologies. Starting on page 18 is an article about compact waterjets. The author notes 3D printers and waterjets enable greater healthcare innovation… 99% of U.S. hospitals currently house a 3D printer… [and] with incorporation of compact machinery into hospitals and labs, technicians can produce anatomical models for preoperative planning, surgical guides customized from body scans, dental prostheses directly from intraoral scans, and personalized surgical instruments customized to the surgeon’s specifications.

The unsung heroes of the factory floor article (pg. 38) discuss the efficiencies realized with 3D printed (3DP) jigs and fixtures. While AM doesn’t replace jigs and fixtures requiring the highest levels of strength and durability, if a product is expected to change frequently…3DP offers an alternative at a fraction of the time and cost.

On page 36, the authors examine the future of AM by 2040 – Revolutionary Niche or Industry Transformation – noting no matter how the real future plays out, these scenarios suggest medical applications are highly likely to be at the epicenter of AM advancement.

AM is reshaping how parts are designed and manufactured while delivering efficiencies companies need to remain competitive.

December 2022
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